Ever left a job site with a sense of doom or despair? You drive away angry with knots in the pit of your stomach, knowing you've lost control and there is nothing you can do to change your customer's attitude. While driving, you think of all the things that should have been said. The day is ruined and the evening with family is affected-all because of the attitude of your customer.

One of the key problems with subcontracting is the attitude of those you work for. There are owners, architects and superintendents you will never please. More frightful are customers whose egos are larger than life. Ego-driven customers don't care about you or your business. An ego-driven customer, in my opinion, is the scariest of them all.

My first experience with one of these people happened on a small project in the town of Puyallup, Wash. The superintendent called to meet at the job site. During our phone conversation, he said he wanted to go over some problems he felt were developing. As I walked up to the job trailer, I could hear the superintendent yelling at someone in the trailer. I didn't know at the time it was his assistant. I was surprised to hear the super say, "I'm gonna show you how to make money. The drywall sub is going to be here in a minute and I'm going to show you how to talk him out of his extra charges for the soffits that were added. Once I get rid of his charges, we can charge the owner for the changes and keep it all."

The superintendent went on to say that drywall contractors are a dime a dozen and that most of them are a "bunch of flakes."

I walked up the steps and knocked on the door, and the superintendent shook my hand and introduced me to his assistant. The three of us went inside the building and the superintendent pulled out my quote for the added soffits. He told me he would like to see the charges go away. He also said that my charges were excessive and that his normal drywall sub would never charge him for such a small amount of work. I explained that the charges were actually very reasonable and that I have to charge for the work. At that point, he exploded.

In front of his assistant and everyone else on the job he started yelling, while kicking walls and spitting.

"You're going to see a punch list on this job that will never end and I'll make sure you never do another job for us," he said. "Do you still want to charge me?"

"Yes. And I want another $100 for having to come down here."

I didn't know a person could explode twice but this guy went supersonic. I egged him on and embarrassed him in front of his assistant due to my own ego problems; but I knew too much because I had overheard his plan from the beginning.

The ego has landed

Egotistical customers don't appreciate proposals or subcontracts that are specific and well defined. An egotist wants every thing his way, and it's difficult for an egotist to get what he wants if your work is well defined and clearly identified. An egotist absolutely hates subcontractors who list exclusions or requires the customer to do or provide things at no cost to the subcontractor. An egotist hates clarity because an egotist is used to getting his own way and a clearly written proposal, in most cases, limits many of the loopholes an egotist looks for.

Egotism is acting out of self-conceit or self-importance, in actions and deeds. Egotism is a state in which feelings are concentrated on one's self. In construction, the egotist may be the determining factor as to whether or not you get paid. The egotist may also be the determining factor as to whether or not you ever work for his company again. As well, an egotist may not take responsibility for impacting your schedule or sequence. In other words, you can't make an egotist happy, because the only thing that makes him happy is getting his way.

It's difficult to spot an egotist before giving him your proposal. Oftentimes, an egotist leads one to believe he will be great to work for. The egotist may be compared to a dry fly used by fly fishermen. He tosses out an attractive looking bid package and says how much he'd like to work with you, as well as mention all the good things he's heard about your company. The bait looks great so you decide to submit a bid without your customary inclusions, exclusions and general condition comments. If the person you're dealing with is a serious egotist, he or she may say, "Your price looks pretty good but I've got to make sure your competitors include the same scope of work."

The ultimate egotist will wait as long as he can for you to call him back and say, "I'd really like to work with you on this job but it appears your price is about 3 percent higher but if you drop it by 3 percent I'll give you the job." You figure 3 percent is minor so you agree. The egotist sets the hook and you don't even know it.


At this point, you're hooked but you're not in the boat. The egotist sends you a subcontract and you conclude that since your customer gave you the number to beat he or she must like you and is looking out for your best interests. You sign the subcontract as-is and send it back to your customer. At this point, you've swallowed the hook and your committed but you're still not in the boat, according to the egotist's handbook.

In a few weeks, the egotist calls and says the job is ready. You go to the job site and find that part of the job is ready, so you tell your customer that you really need everything ready at once. The egotist tells you that his other drywall contractor would have done the job in a couple of phases and that he wouldn't have given you the job if he had known it was a problem. You agree to start the job, only to find out that only parts of phase 1 are ready. You tell your customer, and he asks you to work with him and to get as much done as possible. You agree, because you're beginning to sense frustration in your customer's tone of voice but what you're really feeling is a tug on the hook and line that you've swallowed.

Finally, phase one is done and the egotist tells you to get ready for phase two. You stock phase two and start a couple of workers only to find out that all of phase two is not ready. You talk to your customer and he tells you that everybody is dealing with the same problems and there isn't anything he can do about it at this point. He tells you he's looking for team players that will work through problems like this.

You walk away feeling defeated, knowing that his problems are now your problems. Later in the day the egotist tells you to hire more workers, and to start working overtime because your behind schedule. You try to refuse but the egotist tells you that you either hire more people or start working overtime or he will get someone else on the job to do it at your expense. At that point, the fishing line gets taunt and you feel the pull but you can't spit the hook because it's stuck deep in your throat. Your eyes are wide open at this point and you hope to keep your losses to a minimum. The egotist at this point has you reeled up close to the boat and once your work is done he is going to net another few percentage points.

Where egos dare

You hire extra people and start working late to get the job done as soon as you can. Days pass and you finally finish the work. The egotist isn't done with you yet because he has some costs to charge off to some unsuspecting soul. He explains that he had to sand floors and clean windows to get the taping mud off. He also says that he had to cleanup and haul away scrap. The egotist sends you a bill for $1,500, which will be deducted from your contract. Several weeks later, the egotist sends a punch list and another back charge for repainting. Above the water's surface, you see some guy kneeling over the edge of a boat and when a net drops below, you can't swim away. A true egotist is having fun at this point. He has you hooked real good because he's got plenty of your money. Now, it's just a matter of getting you to complete your punch list items without having to hire someone else to do it. You decide to complete the punch list and arrive at the job to go over the punch list with your customer. You explain there is a fair amount of trade damage that you will have to charge him for. He tells you what a great job you've done so far and how much he would appreciate your help in getting the punch list done. He explains that he will work something out on the trade damage but to get it done so it doesn't hold up payment.

Finally, the punch list is done and you know how much money the job cost you. You're surprised at how much you lost but you're so glad to be off that job. You think it's over but the egotist hasn't gotten you in the boat yet. Your customer calls you and tells you that he isn't going to pay for the trade damage because you delayed the job. You feel the net surround you and before you know it you're suspended in mid air gasping for breath. The very last thing the egotist says, "I'm really sorry for how the job went but I want you to know that I'd like to work with you again." He's just getting you ready for the next fishing trip.

Food For Thought

Don't deviate! Subcontractors develop quotes, proposals, inclusions and exclusions, as well as subcontract modifications for a reason. Not all general contractors and owners are egotists; in fact, some are wonderful people who you will want to develop long-term business relationships. However, none of us know when our contacts will move from one company to another. We also don't know if or when we will run across a situation where a battle will ensue. Deviating from our standard practices for a new customer is playing with fire.

We really don't know when we will run across an egotistical superintendent, owner or project manager. If we use a systematic business approach to every customer we don't have to guess what kind of person we're dealing with. All of us have to understand that the day of a handshake deal is pretty much a lost art. Contracts, quotes, proposals and purchase orders have replaced verbal agreements for the most part and if you don't want to end up on someone's dinner plate; don't deviate.

Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contract!