Setting the Tone

Why is it that we have such difficulty enjoying our work? Sure, there are lots of pressures on us to provide incomes, meet government regulations, keep everyone safe on the jobsite and, at the end of the day, design and build thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing projects. Yes, we must be able to collaborate and compromise in order to meet expectations and financial investment ranges. But should it be a painful process or one that flows easily and comfortably?

Whether you’ve been in the design/build business for a few months or dozens of years, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes the high stakes of our work cause us and our team members to stress out and convey that stress to the client. This is such a harmful environment to place ourselves in. I’ve seen clients who look like they’re about to visit their doctor, expecting the worst. I’ve also seen builders who look like they’ve just returned from an IRS audit after meeting with the client.

The truth is that the design meeting pre-sents a great opportunity for homeowners, builders and designers to establish rapport, get to know each other’s work personalities and solve the design and build issues that are presented within the project. I always ask the client before our design meeting for permission to have fun. Most people like to have fun and I’ve yet to hear someone say they don’t. In fact, recently I was making a second design presentation with a builder and the homeowners when the wife stopped me and worried aloud, “You didn’t ask us if we could have fun.” This deflated any tension that was in the room and lightened the atmosphere for a productive design session.

The needs of all parties in the meeting may be different, but the end results should be common. The builder may be concerned about how the design affects the budget, while the homeowner is worried about what the home will look like and the designer may be looking for validation of his intellectual and artistic talents. But creative problem solving is best served if all parties make an upfront pact to have fun and remember that there is more than one answer to the conflicts that may present themselves.

Although we cannot schedule all of life’s events, we need to take control of how we enter our meetings. Our mental state, presentation preparedness and demeanor definitely are within our control. Even if you’re having a rough morning, you need to shelve those negative feelings and greet your client with a positive and productive attitude. One way to do this is to arrive early for the meeting, park a street away and go over your presentation information in your car. If you arrive late for a meeting, seem distracted and are in a foul mood the chances of success are slim at best.

Whether you’re the designer or the builder on your team, you need to set the stage for your meetings. Let everyone know the expectations of the meeting and, if need be, adjust your attitude to a more positive and productive one.

When we were kids, we had no trouble having fun. It was in our nature. This is still in all of us; it has just been suppressed under the weight of our responsibilities and what we thought adult behavior should be. As Noel Coward said, “Work is much more fun than fun.”