The sandwich (with meat)

What to do when youre 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.



  • Fred Taylor says:

    Dave, you always have great topics! I say create a new common enemy and dummy-up.

  • Chuck says:

    In 1964 Eric Berne wrote a book titled ‘Games People Play’. It is well worth reading.

    The movie ‘War Games’ however, probably has better advice: “The best way to win is not to play.”

    Dave, can you get a message to the web master who administers this blog? The message box that we must type our responses in uses something like a size six type – far too small for my tired old eyes.. Once the comment is submitted, it changes to a type several sizes larger. I am sure this mouse type is discouraging people from responding to your column.

  • Ed Richards says:

    When I had my cabinet shop some 25 years ago I had a couple of instances where the customer was argumentative. I had a bad feeling that it would only get worse. I informed them that I was unable to do the job. This caused quite a stir. My final aswere was ” If we can not get along now when you owe me no money what will it be like when you owe me money?

    Ed Richards

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