The sandwich (with meat)
What to do when you’re caught in a situation in which you have to deal with issues that have nothing to do with the work you were hired for.
The worst variation is what psychologists call “triangulation.” There are at least a million ways this can work but a very typical setup would be one in which the homeowners have a fundamental disagreement on the project. Possibly, only one of them really wants to spend the money or maybe they had a big fight over the door style. Or they are simply not getting along. Whatever the disagreement was, they end up focusing on you as the common enemy. Rather than fight with each other, they fight with you.
The big question is how to deal with this in a gracious and businesslike manner. Actually, the best advice would be to run. But, more often than not, running is not an option. You may need the job or may already be under contract. It is imperative, in these situations, to make sure that everything down to the smallest detail is documented in writing and approved in writing. And this approval must be from both parties. You don’t want to end up with one person saying they approved it and the other saying they never even saw it.
Even with this close monitoring, you can end up standing by while your clients argue with each other. You can bet that if you stick around long enough, they will align and turn on you. Your best bet is to not be there. You can say something like, “It looks like you guys need some time to work this out. Why don’t you give me a call when you reach a decision”, and then politely slip out the door.
The last thing you want to do is make yourself the target. You can offer suggestions and try to act as a referee but, more often than not, this will backfire. You need to make it apparent that you will be happy to engage in a constructive discussion but will not allow them to make you the “relief valve” for their own personal issues.