Honesty is the Best Policy When It Comes to Construction Communication

Construction Customers Deserve You Being Brutally Honest with Them

Honesty is something that is in short supply now days. It’s like we think if we say something long enough and loud enough it makes it the truth.

Being honest with people is especially difficult for amiable people with stable “Golden Retriever” characteristics, as per the DISC personality profile. (Take the personality test here) It doesn’t help that 40% of the population is this way. People with this personality just want to get along, they try to avoid confrontation at all costs.

I know this because this is a part of my personality. it’s hard to tell people things they don’t want to hear.

The honesty issue doubles when both the contractor and customer are “Golden Retrievers”. Both parties want to get along, and make assumptions based on their perspective, then are disappointed when things don’t go as expected.

In an effort to get along things get left unsaid.

As a customer you need to be willing to ask questions when you need to know something. Even with written proposals and contracts things are overlooked or misunderstood.

As a contractor you need to take time to go through the paperwork and explain things. Be willing to tell the customer the truth about what to expect through the process. This can be hard, especially when customers wants the project started today and finished tomorrow.

In this fast pace, want it now world, expectations are often unrealistic.

Setting realistic expectations reminds me of an old TV commercial. In this commercial there is a young couple and a “rough and rugged” building contractor in overalls setting at a table in a kitchen.  The contractor is explaining the construction process to them as he is writing.  

He tells them, “…when we get started, we will take out all of your cabinets and then be gone for a couple of weeks. When we come back, we’ll take out the patio door in the dining room and put plastic over the opening. It will be left that way for several days. During that time, it will leak in when it rains. Then when the countertop is installed…it will be wrong. We’ll have to order a new one and that will mean another 4 weeks wait.”

Then he slides the contract over to the couple as they look at each other in disbelief and he says, “But when we’re done, you’ll have the kitchen of your dreams and you’re going to want to kiss me smack dab on the lips.”

Then the tag line for the commercial was “Brutally Honest”. I think the commercial was for a cable company, but I’m not sure. As a contractor I certainly could identify with it though.

This was an exaggeration, of course, but there still is a level of reality in it. Construction projects by nature, with all the various parts, never go as smoothly as anyone would like.

There are going to be some bumps along the way in every construction project.

Construction customers deserve this kind of brutal honesty.

It’s hard to hear things that don’t align with the dream picture in our mind. It’s hard to tell people things that they don’t want to hear.

Setting realistic expectations upfront will reduce disappointment in the end.

Honesty Is the Best Policy – I Don’t Care How Hard It Is

How to Create Realistic Expectations for Customers – Part 2


Last week we discussed the importance of communication to creating realistic expectations for customers. This week we will look at three more things that need to be addressed to provide customers with a WOW rather than a woops experience.




• Everything takes longer than you think

There’s a lot of information out there about this. It is a very common problem. The planning fallacy gives some explanation, but I think it is more than this. I think many of us have a desire to help others and in an effort to fulfill expectations we over promise, which leads to under delivery. Especially when doing a construction project with all the pieces that have to fit together. Many of these things are out of my control which makes planning and scheduling more difficult. In an article by Emily Guy Birken she tells of a contractor friend who has come up with “a formula for figuring out a more realistic time frame: Double the number and go to the next unit of time for your estimate. For instance, if you believe your kitchen renovation will take two weeks, according to my friend, it will actually take four months.” This seems a little extreme, but I know everything takes longer than expected.

Solution – There are formulas and systems for determining an accurate amount of time needed to do the work. It will take some experimenting to get a realistic projection for the time to do a project. (Even if it is as extreme as the example above.) Be open and honest with yourself and your customer. It would be better to tell them the longer time in the beginning. This goes for the designing and pricing stages as well. Remember that most generally customers aren’t as familiar with the construction process as contractors, and this makes the realistic time gap even wider.



• Saying yes to too many things

There are so many things that I want to do. So many great wonderful important things. With all these things drawing us to them with overpowering magnetic force we get stuck and can’t move fast enough or far enough to get away from the pull. Mistake #2 of Michael Hyatt’s blog post “The 10 Biggest Mistakes People Make in Setting Goals” is creating too many goals. He quotes the old Chinese proverb, “Man who chases two rabbits catches neither”. I think chasing too many rabbits is what causes us to us to get lost on rabbit trails.


Solution – This solution is simple…say NO. This will be the hardest one to do. Those of us that want to help others struggle with this a lot. In 2014 we did the “Best Yes” study by Lysa Terkhurst at church. She said “Whenever you say yes to something, there is less of you for something else. Make sure your yes is worth the less.” We have to find our specific purpose. Then we have to focus on that. We have to be honest with ourselves so that we can create realistic expectations for customers.



• Details are worth the wait

Another thing that takes time is craftsmanship. I’ve heard people use the saying, “we’re not building a piano” when trying to move a project forward faster. This may have been true, but I believe we should give the same level of intentional care to building someone’s dream as to building a piano. People have different levels of expected quality. Being a recovering perfectionist, I ‘m going to naturally move toward that. Others may not be expecting that level of quality.


Solution – Each customer’s expectations need to be determined early in the process so that the length of time can be determined and communicated. This is one of the hardest to determine. Often, they don’t even know what makes one thing quality and another not. It takes time to build a piano or a dream and we need to help them determine what quality of dream they want to build.



It’s hard to tell people things they don’t want to hear. That a project is going to take longer than they expected is one of those things. Communicate with them. Be honest about the time needed. Say NO if it doesn’t fit your purpose. Quality takes time.


If we aren’t honest with ourselves and others then we are creating unrealistic expectations for everyone involved.

Feel free to share examples of unrealistic expectations in the comments below.

How to Create Realistic Expectations for Customers

Expectations Are My Responsibility, “The Buck Stops Here”

In March of this year I wrote about the home my architect niece is planning to build, using two grain bins. This project has been in the planning stage for several months and the dreaming/idea stage even longer. She and I discussed how we could both blog about this simultaneously from differing perspectives. This project is going be fun on a bunch of different levels.

Hannah posted her first blog at www.un-defined.com earlier this week. In that post she wrote about her reasons for delay in getting started writing.

As I read her post it got me to thinking about the reasons that things often don’t meet our expectations. I’m aware of several projects currently that customers are feeling this way. Some I’m involved in and some not. This sense of disappointment is way too normal, when it should be rare.

We need realistic expectations.


Why does this happen?There are several reasons for this issue and some simple solutions, that if done, would make expectations more realistic for everyone involved.

• Lack of or poor communication

I think this is the number one reason for unrealistic expectations. With most projects having so many moving pieces and different people involved it is next to impossible to set and maintain an accurate schedule. When things are proceeding slower than you would like if you were just updated it would help tremendously. This goes both directions – from the service providers and suppliers to the contractor and from the contractor to the customer. It is like waiting for your teenager to get home and they’re late. Your mind begins to go to all kinds of scenarios that rarely are even close to reality. Even though we know this, it doesn’t make us feel any better. Communication makes a huge difference.

Solution –
Be as realistic as possible at the start. Often, the customer expectations are unrealistic in the beginning. Many times, this is their first experience with this kind of project. It is the contractor’s responsibility to be as realistic as possible, even if we know the customer doesn’t want to hear it. When things aren’t meeting the expectations; make the call, go by the job, let all parties know what’s going on. I know that delivering unwanted news isn’t what you want to do. The longer you wait, the worse it will be.


There’s a lot of room for improving communication.

Here are some additional posts about this comunication – 

Can Communicating Too Much, Be Too Much?
The Importance of Good Communication
What We’ve Got Here, Is A Failure to Communicate


My expectations for this week’s post weren’t realistic. This is a case in point. I thought I could write this in a couple of hours this morning…didn’t happen. With the size of this issue and to cover it properly I kept writing and writing and writing. Finally, I decided it needs to be split into more than one post.

Next week I will post “How To Create Realistic Expectations for Customers – Part 2”

It will cover –

  • Everything taking longer than you think
  • Saying yes to too many things
  • Details are worth the wait


Who knows, by next week I might come up with more. If you think of any additional reasons, feel free to share them in the comments.


How to Convert Your Construction Project from Unrealistic to Wow

The Importance of Having Realistic Expectations Before the Project Ever Starts


One of the most consistent issues that I hear from people who have been involved in construction projects, is disappointment. These displeasures show up in a variety of ways and most often it comes down to unrealistic expectations and less than desired results. This discontentment can come from either customers or contractors and usually the responsibility lies with both.

The solution to this problem also belongs to both.

As a customer you aren’t continuously involved in construction projects. You don’t have the experience and knowledge that construction professionals do. This is not to say that every person or company that claims to be a professional is. It’s important for you to know what you need in a contractor and take the time to find the right one for you and your project.

The excitement that comes with the beginning of a project starts to wain after a while. You just want to have your project, whether it is a big renovation or a small repair, done. You want to get your life back to normal as quickly as possible. Regular life is disrupting enough without a construction project, but to have trades people coming in and out of your home or business periodically and/or unexpectedly wasn’t a part of that initial excitement.

The best way for you to prepare for a construction project is to learn all you can about what is involved, before you start. Even small projects have several pieces that need to be fit together to achieve the desired outcome. This takes knowledge and experience to get these pieces to fit together at the right time and in the right way.

Watching home remodeling programs on television isn’t the best place to learn realistic expectations. Often these programs are more of a problem than a solution. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of valuable information that can be gleaned from these shows. The thing you need to realize is that the purpose of these programs is largely to generate viewers not create realistic expectations for your construction project.

This is why it is important to get the right contractor. If a contractor does their job well, all the various pieces will fit together in the way that you wanted. This doesn’t mean that it will be what you initially expected, but rather an informed realistic expectation. What is important for you as the customer to do is to know how to determine if a contractor is the best one for you.

There are several things to consider when looking for a contractor.

  • First and foremost is compatibility. Are they going to be someone that you can work with day in and day out for the duration of the project? This is critical to the outcome.
  • Second is honesty and integrity. Often you can tell this with a few conversations and can confirm it with references.
  • Third is the experience and skill level. How long have they been doing construction and what types of projects have they done previously?

Projects rarely go the way the customer or the contractor think they should or would like, but this doesn’t mean that they need to be disappointing for either. The key is to plan and learn all that you can before you get too far into the process. If you will do this, you will decrease your chances of unrealistic and increase your chances of a wow project in the end.