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Strengthen GC Relationships

How to Improve GC Relationships and Project Performance with Effective Communication

Let’s be candid: Most people in construction don’t treat each other like they trust each other. People have their guard up, cautious of getting screwed over, lowballed, overcharged or misled.  Matt Verderamo, an expert construction consultant, believes that this clenched up demeanor is doing far more harm than good.  We spoke to Verderamo about his thoughts on what hinders seamless trust and communication in construction, and the communication tactics that he uses to build strong, lasting GC relationships. 

About the Contributor

Matt Verderamo

Matt Verderamo is an expert construction consultant who helps contractors build balanced businesses and people.

Business Outcomes

The Benefit of Setting and Honoring Commitments

As you go about earning a GC’s trust, a huge thing to pay attention to is how you deliberately set expectations for them, and then meet those expectations. You want them to understand that your word is iron-clad. 

It’s helpful to picture the following framework:

Conversation → Mutual Commitment → Follow Through

Preconstruction Example: 

Let’s say you get a bid request from a GC that you don’t know well. This is a crucial moment in what could be a new, lasting partnership with them. In this scenario, many subs would bid it, not get it and hear no feedback from the GC. 

To combat this, implement the following framework:

  • Conversation: Go out of your way to tell your GC how much time you spent getting your number right. Assure them that they can take this number back to the Owner confidently.
  • Mutual Commitment: Be upfront about how past GCs have skipped out on feedback. Set a firm expectation about wanting bid feedback in return.
  • Follow Through: Most importantly, deliver a detailed, rigorously vetted estimate. 

Now, if you don’t get feedback, you have options – you can pursue the feedback with a leg to stand on (thanks to that initial conversation), hoping to use that feedback to improve your future bids and win future work with that GC. Or, walk away because this GC did not live up to their side of the bargain. 

Example: Set and Honor Submittal Timelines

  • Conversation: Go out of your way to tell the GC you always get your submittals in on time.
  • Mutual Commitment: Stipulate that you expect them to carefully review your submittals.Tell them your goal here is to make sure you’re not getting too many revisions later on, especially after doing your due diligence to get your submittals in right when they were needed.
  • Follow Through: And most importantly, deliver your submittals on time. 

On the other side, if your GC doesn’t review submittals carefully, hold them accountable and ask what happened. 

These commitments become the foundation of trust; they go a long way in demonstrating competence and professionalism, while helping you get what you need from the GC.

Best Practices for GC Communication

To get your requests with the GC to land the way you want them to, Verderamo had these best practices to share with subs who want to communicate more effectively with GCs on a project. 

  • Use Objective Language: In one case, Matt remembers starting an email to a GC with, “We have been nothing but an honest trade partner.” This is not objective language. Matt suggests sticking to anything that would be caught on video. For example, you can say that you have always been on time, and properly staffed. Don’t frame your feelings as facts. 
  • Know Your Contract: Read your contracts inside and out, or consult with someone who has. When discussing contract-related matters, that knowledge helps you address your contractual obligations with razor sharp coherence, without getting adversarial about subjective interpretations of what your duties were. 
  • But Don’t Use Your Contract If You Don’t Have To: You’re a partner, not a lawyer. Solve problems by hearing the other side out and taking action. Make sure you’re within contract guidelines, and keep a paper trail, but do your best to not recite contract terms to your customer needlessly. 
  • Communicate Mistakes Quickly: Mistakes don’t age well. Verderamo recommends letting the GC know almost as soon as you’ve spotted a mistake. Formulate an action plan for how to move forward, but let them know as soon as that’s done. 
  • Maintain a Partnership Posture: Verderamo stresses the importance of maintaining a partnership mindset with GCs. It’s a conceptual shift, where you stop thinking of yourself as a service provider and start thinking of yourself as a true partner to the GC, who merits as much respect and trust as they give. Communicate that to them, and tell them that you want your business performance to elevate them in the eyes of their clients. 
  • Demonstrate Proactivity: To show that you value the schedules as much as the GC, be proactive. Attend progress meetings and visit the job site early in the project. Send voluntary updates on project-related tasks and timelines to keep everyone informed and aligned. Identify potential challenges early and communicate them clearly. For instance, you can create a list of tasks or requirements that need to be fulfilled before your work can commence and share that with the GC. 
    • Hold a 30 minute project kickoff session with the GC to talk through your respective philosophies, communication styles, goals for the project and standards for success.
  • Think Like a GC: One way to differentiate yourself as a subcontractor is to factor in other trades and how they’re going to overlap with your work. If you’re on top of not just your work, but how it affects the wider project, you are invaluable. 

4 Steps to Take With Negative GC Relationships

Sometimes, negativity can cloud your relationship with a GC, making it difficult to execute the tactics outlined above. Verderamo had a few tips to offer subs when they’re dealing with unpleasant GC relationships. 

  1. Don’t Make Negative Assumptions Based on Small, Bad Interactions: One common mistake that subcontractors make is misinterpreting situations and creating false narratives. According to Verderamo, people tend to tell themselves stories based on single interactions. For example, if a GC’s senior PM takes a pointlessly harsh tone that a subcontractor doesn’t appreciate, it can lead to misunderstandings. Subcontractors may begin to distrust the GC and even start making assumptions that further erode trust. It’s better to stay mindful of the full picture. You don’t know what else was going on in that PM’s day. Assume the best, don’t jump to conclusions and remain open, even when it’s hard. Misconceptions can be cleared up, and an effort should be made there. Trust can be rebuilt if you come at it with a constructive attitude.
  2. Pick Up the Phone: When things go south, a misinterpreted email can make things worse. Over the phone, you have the benefit of projecting a confident, empathetic tone of voice that can soften the conversation.
  3. Show Understanding Toward Their Side: Instead of immediately assuming negative intent, go out of your way to seek clarification and be understanding toward what they have to say. The simple act of seeking understanding can resolve conflicts and miscommunications earlier. But this requires you and your team to be proactive and not let disputes sit there and marinate.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away: Verderamo emphasizes that it’s crucial to be prepared to walk away from unproductive partnerships. If a GC consistently fails to follow through on promises, or outright won’t make them, this is a sign that the relationship isn’t worth pouring effort into. Walking away from relationships like that is an act of self-preservation.

Trust is the foundation of superior GC-sub communication, and building it requires leading with vulnerability, objectivity and proactivity. By following this framework, GCs and subcontractors can deal with fewer project emergencies and create more durable relationships.

 

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