EZG Manufacturing
Federated Insurance
Fraco USA, Inc.
Hohmann and Barnard, Inc.
Husqvarna Construction Products N.A.
Hydro Mobile, Inc.
iQ Power Tools
Kennison Forest Products, Inc.
Mortar Net Solutions
Non-Stop Scaffolding
Southwest Scaffolding
Tradesmen's Software, Inc.
August 15, 2010 9:00 AM CDT

Never Show Your Hand

Contractor tip of the month


Would you ever play poker with your cards exposed, face up, for the other players to see without seeing their cards? What do you think your chances are of winning in that situation? If you play cards like that, I can assure you that your chance of winning is very slim. The same is true on a construction project.

When issues arise on a construction project, you have the option of playing with your cards face up or face down. The first option is to keep from showing your hand. How? It’s simply by fixing the problem while working in harmony with the owner and other contractors on site. The second option is to expose your hand. You do this when you complain (or allow your superintendent do so), making the people you are working with miserable. The second option is just about as sure of a loser as if you are playing poker with your cards face up.

My company is currently replacing the wood on the doors and installing safety rails on some river locks for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. During normal times we don’t do many projects like this. However, these were right in our backyard and, since, there is so little work out there, we took the job for the same cost that we would put on a normal project, hoping things would go smoothly. Now the issues are beginning to surface. Working on these big, very old doors above and below the water brings issues that were unforeseeable during the bidding process. These issues could not have been detected by the owner or anyone else ahead of time. So now we have a choice to make. How are we going to play this game out with the owner? We could whine and complain daily about his lock doors being in much worse shape than we thought. This would surely aggravate his project manager while showing our own hand. It would virtually guarantee we don’t get any change orders or work from him in the future. Instead, we chose to play without showing our cards by doing everything we can to make his project manager happy. Swallowing our pride and giving the owner what he wants with a smile seems to be working well for us as he has been approving our change orders promptly. He also is talking about doing more work with us in the future.

Many contractors may not realize they are even playing with their cards exposed until it’s too late. They do this by keeping managers who show their emotions daily to their customers, making every little issue into a huge problem. I can tell you this, as soon as you or your superintendent blows his top over an issue, your cards are exposed, and winning becomes unlikely. How can you expect to get a change order or more work from the owner if he has to deal with a whiner? It sounds so easy, but many subcontractors unknowingly make it hard on themselves.

The goal on any project is to get change orders for anything that is not in your original contract, while keeping the customer happy so he uses you on his future work. You can do this by staying calm, cool and collected from start to finish, building relationships in the process. Then, you will have a much better chance of getting the customer to open up his wallet to change orders. If you “Never Show Your Hand” you also will be more likely to get your customer to play again. After all, if you were in the customer’s shoes, would you rather work with a winner or a whiner?

About the Author

Damian Lang is a mason contractor in southeast Ohio and inventor of many labor saving masonry systems and products. Lang has served as the Marketing Committee Chairman for the Mason Contractors Association of America. He is also author of the book Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry. To network with Damian on contractor tips or tips you have and would like published, contact him at or 740-749-3512.


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