Miscommunication… a construction lawyer’s best friend – Legal Desk, May 2022
May 26, 2022 By Dan Leduc
May 26, 2022 – Something’s been gnawing at me, and I need to get it off my chest.
My standing mandate with this excellent magazine is to write informative columns related to the legal aspects of construction and, in particular, electrical contracting. My personal opinions are perhaps best set aside.
That said… I’ve been practising construction law for 30 years and—at the risk of oversimplifying things—I have been essentially making my living off of miscommunication.
It usually starts with a design that is miscommunicated to a bidder who, in turn, miscommunicates the cost associated with constructing that design in a contract with a general contractor who, in turn, miscommunicates the schedules for that work.
The pandemic has made the situation worse. There are fewer in-person meetings and less contact between construction proponents, and I have noticed a corresponding increase in miscommunication.
All these miscommunications result in assumptions that make it hard to find a true meeting of minds—notwithstanding what the contract language might say.
So, even though I make a living off of miscommunication, I suggest we all get comfortable with overcommunicating with each other, and try some of the following:
1. Introductions. If the size of your meeting or presentation can manage it, make sure to introduce everyone to one another. This makes it easier for people to ask questions of each other, and truly engage in the meeting.
2. Manage expectations. Right at the outset, discuss the purpose of the meeting and what every person hopes to get out of it.
3. Repetition is good! I’ve noticed a growing impatience with—and intolerance of—those who may wish to hear some comment or instruction repeated, or wish to ask additional questions. The result is that people, understandably, will hesitate to ask those questions, or confirm instructions and information, and we don’t get to our desired meeting of minds. So feel free to repeat a comment, instruction or question. I will not chastise you for repeating yourself, and please don’t chastise me or others. We should all be more tolerant, and actively invite people to ask or confirm whatever is needed for all of us to get onto the same page.
4. Invite questions regularly. Do not assume the people you are addressing fully understand what you are trying to communicate, so make sure you invite questions at different intervals throughout your meeting or discussion. This helps confirm whether your audience actually understands what you are trying to communicate. Do so in sufficient short intervals so that your audience doesn’t have to make extensive notes about all the questions they have.
5. Other than words? Consider different means and platforms by which to communicate your message. For example, logic charts, photos, slides and diagrams really help me understand what is being communicated.
6. Avoid acronyms. Not everyone will know what each and every acronym truly means. It you still find yourself compelled to use acronyms, make sure everyone understands what the acronym stands for.
7. Summarizing. At the end of the discussion, summarize what was discussed and repeat the action items, next steps, etc… all with the goal of achieving a meeting of minds.
Dan Leduc is a partner in the law firm of Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, and practices exclusively in the area of construction law. He is always happy to take on new clients from anywhere in Canada. Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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