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August 9, 2006 7:10 AM CDT

Killing Them with Helpfulness!


Don't get mad; don't get even; just try to be helpful.
Don't get mad; don't get even; just try to be helpful.

Here's the picture: you're on the phone - again - trying to collect something from your client. Maybe it's a check so that you can cover this week's payroll; maybe it's a change order so that you can finally bill next month for the work you did last month. You know the drill! You've made those calls, and you've received the same lack of response. Don't you just hate it when your client turns a deaf ear to your problems, after you have already solved his or her problems? You kept the job going, made your client happy, and spent your money. Now, you'd just like to get it back.

If you've read this column before, I know you've already been down this road at least once. Seems like some kind of cosmic law: Sometimes when you're working with people you'll get stuck at the short end of the stick and regret that you were ever so helpful. You'll ask yourself, "What was I thinking?" The way this story usually ended for me, back when I was actively contracting, was that after I struck out, I had to go home and then explain to my wife all of the above! Which experience was worse?

I've been down this road before. That's why I wrote the book, "Get Paid for a Change," and why you should get the free audio summary of it available in the Playbook, on the following page. And it's also why I've started a blog, so that we can all get together and talk about what's happening, what our struggles are, and how we deal with them. Plus, it allows me the chance to go off on a rant whenever something new comes up - and that happens a lot.

Anyway, how does a contractor make his or her way along this perilous trail and not lose their direction, their mind or their integrity? How do you deal with these issues? I'll tell you what works for me: I don't get mad; I don't try and get even; I just try to be "helpful." Here's what I mean...

Consider a couple of actual examples of mine (properly disguised, of course, to protect the guilty). In a nutshell, I let my client know that I am about to "help" them resolve the issue. And I have found that, over the years, they usually don't want my "help," but I give it to them anyway.

Once, when working for a large, public zoo, our CM was unable to get our change order request approved by the zoo's board - at least, so we were told. Since it didn't seem right to me, and because we really wanted to get our money, I told the CM that I was willing to help. The CM asked, "What are you going to do to help?" I said that I had in mind calling a press conference. "Press conference? Why would you call a press conference?" I said that I thought it was a news event, and that the media would be interested in how a large, public agency was taking advantage of a small business, just as the zoo's new attraction that we had helped to build was about to open. Sort of a David vs. Goliath thing.

The predictable happened:

"You don't need to do a press conference." Me: "I don't mind."

"It's not going to help." Me: "I'll be glad to try."

"We really don't need your help here." Me: "Listen, I'm not going to take no for an answer - I insist upon helping!"

Within two days I had my change order! Coincidence?

Very recently, I had an incident with a school board. I was pretty sure that the CM had dropped the ball on a billing to the school district. They were a few months late. This had happened before. So I let the CM know how displeased I was; I told him that I understood that the school district had sat on the change for a couple of months. After some back and forth, I realized that this CM really needed our "help," and I told him so.

I sent a letter to him, with a copy to the district, explaining how this situation had occurred over the life of the project, and that something had to change. I also explained that I was willing to go before the board at the next meeting and share with them some of my experiences. That way they could benefit from them, we could learn from each other, and we would help to improve the situation for the contractors coming after us.


"You really don't need to do that." Me: "I don't mind."

"I think we have it figured out now; it should be straight by next month." Me: "That's okay."

"It's not really necessary." Me: "I'm still willing to help. I'm available Thursday night."

Funny thing: Both the school district people and the CM told me the same thing! Even funnier: the situation was resolved immediately, and I didn't have to give up my Thursday night!

I realize that your situation is different. Everyone's is, so you have to just learn from my experiences and apply them to your own. But here's the key to all of this stuff: keep your cool; you are never threatening; you are a "helper." And it's really difficult for someone to write a scathing letter to your company, complaining that you are being way too helpful!

This stuff works for me, and it should for you, too.

About the Author

Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at

Copyright © 2006, Gary Micheloni and Full Contact Project Management


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