Pete talks about the importance of language contractors use and how some words are twisted to use against the subs.

If you would like to see a great Web site, go to It's an excellent resource for all of us in the walls and ceilings industry. The Web site also includes a bulletin board where members can post questions to other members.

I recently posted a question asking if anyone had any interesting legal stories or issues to share. Gary Bolles, president of Buffalo Plastering, a New York subcontractor member, responded with some advice. Gary says that he has learned to "run the other way" if he hears his customer say any of what he calls, "famous last words," that include:

#7 We're out of money for the extra work you're doing.

#6 No, I won't sign your extra work order. Just do the work and I'll take care of you.

#5 No, it's not on the prints but you should have figured it anyway.

#4 Give me a good price on this first one and you'll get all the work.

#3 The other guy's price is lower. If you match it, the job is yours.

#2 I don't give draws! As soon as you finish all the work, I'll pay you.

#1 I don't sign contracts or proposals. You can trust me!

Number one of Gary's top seven to look out for is when your customer says or implies that you can trust them. Trust is to put ones confidence in another or placing your reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.

I realize that all of us do our best to raise our children to be honest and trustworthy people. As parents, we get very upset if our children lie to us or display untrustworthy behavior. I think for the most part parents believe that teaching their children to tell the truth is a solid foundation for building a healthy relationship. It's near impossible to have a good relationship with anyone who is not honest. We know teamwork cannot be achieved through dishonesty.


Be it a project manager, architect, owner or job superintendent, there is normally someone in charge of a project. Someone must oversee or manage the subcontractor's work. In order for a subcontractor to put his or her trust in a superintendent, the superintendent must be a trustworthy individual and must display trustworthiness in word and deed.

It doesn't take long for a subcontractor to determine if a superintendent is worthy of trust. The superintendent's overall attitude will indicate whether or not he or she can be trusted. Money issues often bring to the surface whether or not a superintendent will be honest with you.

It is my understanding that submarines use sonar to guide their way through the deep dark ocean bottom. Airplanes, on the other hand, are tracked by radar from the ground in order to determine their direction and location.

Experienced subcontractors also have a type of radar-sonar system. It's called "Lie-dar." Lie-dar is the uncanny ability subcontractors have to hone in on a customer's integrity level. A subcontractor's lie-dar system is always turned on ready to track any incoming missiles, which may come cloaked in a shroud of falsehood.

A superintendent can make or break a subcontractor. A superintendent has the power to make your job a financial success or a financial disaster. A superintendent has a set of plans, specifications and a contract to which the subcontractor is bound. The superintendent knows that "he and his company are in control of all the gold."

Why is the balance of power so one sided? Why is it that although we would like to trust a superintendent with our success, we can't? In order to earn the trust of a subcontractor, the superintendent must display fairness and honesty.

A utopia could be defined as a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government and social conditions. The perfect superintendent would be someone we could trust and someone who has the best interest of all the subcontractors at heart.

The truth

The cold hard truth is that some superintendents don't have the best interests of subcontractors in mind. Most superintendents have their own company's best interests in mind and if they don't, their senior management will get rid of them.

The truth is that in my experience, most superintendents manage their subcontractors in the same way they are managed. If senior management is not trustworthy or if senior management has only the success of his or her own budgets in mind, the superintendent may take on that same attitude.

In other words, if senior management deals and treats others dishonestly, more than likely, their superintendents will take on that same attitude.

Senior management is anyone above the superintendent. Dishonest and unfair treatment of subcontractors starts at the top and works its way down throughout the company, in many cases. In other cases, senior management turns a blind eye to unfair methods used by their staff because for the time being, they are making money.

It appears that treating subcontractors unreasonably or unfairly works to a large degree.

When our subcontractor lie-dar goes off, we normally don't confront the person telling us the lie. Instead, we may use a lie to combat a lie.

I'm not suggesting you call a superintendent a liar. I've found it doesn't work well. I didn't exactly call him a liar during the meeting. I just said very calmly, "So, when you go home do you teach your kids to lie like that?" From that experience I learned never to call a customer a liar, especially during a meeting and particularly, never involve other family members in my comments.

I've learned that you don't say the word "lie." You say things like, "I must have misunderstood," or "I thought you meant something else." In other words, take the blame for the superintendent's lie.

Subcontractors have evolved to the point where they understand the rules of the subcontracting road. We finesse and navigate our way through all the problems and personalities in order to leave a good taste in our customer's mouth. It's called doing business! It's also called compromising ourselves while at the same time, sending a message that we will accept this behavior.

Very few people enjoy confrontation. However many of us don't have a problem confronting people who are close to us. We may confront our mates for spending too much money or for not being ready on time. We may confront and punish our children for telling a lie or for not doing their homework. We may be the type who is so frustrated throughout the day we want to make everyone around us just as miserable as we are.

Ask yourself this question: Do I treat my customers better than I treat my family and friends? You might find that you confront and demand more from your family than you do your customer. I guess it's just the nature of business. If we confront our customers as boldly as we do our family, we may lose the customer. Confronting contract language, schedule or the integrity of a superintendent may be difficult. However, if we set a higher standard for our customers to meet, we may find ourselves a little more content at home and at work.

Contracting is a difficult and consuming kind of business. Our friends, family and neighbors deserve the very best from us. When you've had a really bad day, a day when you're exhausted, frustrated and consumed with worry about getting paid, let it go before you get home. Drive around the block a few times if you have to. Keep in mind that we don't know how much time we have here with our families.

When you get home feeling like you want to kick the dog, yell at your neighbor or spread a fog of gloom and doom, think about how little time you have to positively impact your family and friends with your presence.

Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contract!