Mediation: 6 Steps to Success (and more demo pics)

I cannot tell you how many of the million (or 7) GCs that I’ve met over the past few months have said “Drawings look pretty on paper, but don’t always show what’s really happening.” This was a particularly annoying statement following a demand that I hire an architect to give them drawings before they bid – if drawings aren’t always right, then why do you need them? How can you possibly be bitching about the drawings while simultaneously asking for them? I digress… The point is, they were right. Our drawings looked awesome and it was surreal to look at the architect and say “These look good and I also need a shower in the 2nd bathroom and a powder room on the first floor, if possible.” and receiving a revised set that included everything I asked for! Typically, I’m the one working around everyone.

Now, you’re all aware we’re doing demo and during this process we found out the following: 1) the concrete foundation is a foot and a half thick 2) the basement floor is not low enough to get the machine in there to hold up our steal beams weighing 700lbs while we install them 3) the ceiling joists are horizontal to the building, not perpendicular 4) the powder room on the first floor requires taking out a window 5) moving the back wall in to make a bigger breakfast area is dicey.

When I was told this, I proceeded to look thoughtful and concerned – internally, I had a blank stare. Then, Wesley started asking me questions like “Do you want this leveled up?”, “What are we going to do to support the master ceiling?”…he began drawing on the wall to explain what he meant and then, to my horror, looked at me as if waiting for an answer to his question. I considered pausing for a full second and then running out of the house flailing my arms. Instead, I said we should talk to Robert, my GC and man in charge, and the architect.

When I spoke with Robert, he was adamant that it was expensive and unnecessary to have the powder room where it was and that we’d have to take out a window, put siding on the outside of the house, and then move the dividing wall (which is the actual rear wall of the original house – our powder room is on the enclosed porch which will now all be living area…you’ll see). He also thinks taking out and replacing the fireplaces is grossly negligent to the character of the property and expensive (which I was happy about because I lost that battle initially with the architect and my investor). Then, it’s also expensive and unnecessary to move the rear wall upstairs to make the bedroom bigger. Whoa, wait – I do not agree with that. I return to my office and see an email from my architect, Randy, who has spoken with Robert and wants to make sure I know that he’s requesting changes and he doesn’t like them (I’m paraphrasing). Sigh.

This kind of stuff is inevitable in construction. In order to get to consensus and mitigate risk, you have to know how to mediate. Here are a some tips I rely on to navigate the process:


1. Get everyone in the same room. Yep, we need to talk. Everyone needs to communicate. This sounds obvious, I know. It’s not. When I used to work for an engineering design firm, it was a repetitive occupational hazard that owners would only communicate with architects and contractors about our design and we would find out after everyone had resolved the issue without consulting the designers of the systems (and shoved the blame). Don’t do that, it increases your risk and – more importantly – your likelihood of looking like a(n) *insert negative adjective here*. Plus, people are less likely to be confrontational when they’re face-to face. The more personalized the meeting, the harder to be a(n) *insert negative adjective here*.

2. Stick to the facts. Especially if the conversation is getting heated, stay factual. For example, if someone starts ramping up about evvvverryything that’s going wrong or if people start pointing fingers, I just retrace the steps concisely as to how we got here. 9 times out of 10, their temper(s) reduce(s). Just try it.

3. Make sure everyone participates. Go ahead, hand them their soapbox to stand on. If someone is more observing than participating, ask them their perspective on the issues. Many times, the observers are very thoughtful. Other times, they’ll complain to you later after everyone has left and you’ll have to run around again – don’t set yourself up for this.

4. Ask a few of the same questions in a slightly different way. This sounds annoying; however, sometimes the answers are different and lead to a different conversation. You want to make sure that all of the facts and potential scenarios are on the table.

5. Keep the goal in mind. You have two goals: 1) get the project done successfully 2) find a resolution to this particular problem. If you set a meeting to resolve one problem, keep the meeting focused on this problem. Don’t wander. Issues that people bring up may be relevant and important – it’s not the subject here. Discussing other issues take time and you don’t want to be the guy who calls an hour meeting that runs for two hours. An hour and 5 minutes is disrespectful to your team’s schedule. If you can have the meeting with everyone standing up, even better. Stay on time by keeping the goal in mind. A quarter before the meeting is supposed to end, ask the hard question: “So, what’s the verdict?”

6. Determine Next Steps. You need an action plan. If you have a verdict, clearly identify who is doing what and by when. CLEARLY. If you need additional information, clearly identify who is doing what and by when. CLEARLY. If you don’t have a verdict, try to at least have a couple alternatives in the form of “if and then” statements (e.g. “If the information shows this, then you do this” “If the information shows that, then you and you do this”.


So, Randy and Robert met and we decided we were going to keep the rear wall in its place on the first floor and alter the size and placement of the bathroom. We need to hire laborers to hold up the steel beams while we install them. We are going to take a look at the lining of the chimney to see if we can salvage the fireplaces. The upper bedroom design stays and the rear wall needs to be moved – aesthetics and function here are more important than cost.

(Randy and Robert arguing about the chimney)


Here are more demo pics from this week:









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