Canadian Contractor

Dispute resolution 101: “Stay calm. Listen. Compromise.”

When negotiating to collect money, realize that rationality and calmness is usually going to get you to a better result than losing your temper or making threats.


January 14, 2015
By John Bleasby

Editor’s Note:  We would like to welcome John Bleasby officially onto the bridge of the good ship Canadian Contractor.ca. John is our new Associate Editor. You may remember John as the author of almost two dozen “Pilot to Contractor” blogs last year, as he built his family’s new home near Orillia, Ont.  Here he talks about dispute resolution. As we all enter the year with, probably, money owed from completion of 2014 work, it’s worth thinking about how to resolve disputes to get that money.

You’ve probably been there, sitting across from a “Receivable.” Perhaps they are a general contractor who hasn’t paid you your last bill as a sub trade, or maybe they’re a homeowner with a holdback. Either way, you want to be paid in full. They have some issues that they feel require “adjustment.”

How do handle the situation so that everyone comes out satisfied?

First of all, you can’t go into any discussion with aggression. Remember; they have your money. It is up to you to use your professionalism and negotiating skills to get as much of the money you are owed from their hands into yours.

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Consider carefully in advance how you would like the dispute to end. For example: Is it simply a matter of you getting all your money, no matter what? If so, are you prepared to go to court or arbitration? Will your reputation possibly suffer as the result this dispute? Is this a person with whom you would like to work again or maintain a decent relationship in the future if a resolution can be found?

Very rarely do people get everything they want. You want every cent you feel you are owed. Maybe the other party doesn’t want to pay you a dime. Both positions are likely unreasonable.

Here are some tips for you to consider.

  1. The “Receivable” has a point of view. Hear them out. Let them get it all off their chest. Go into the meeting prepared to take notes.
  2. At the appropriate opportunity, ask for the chance to address the issues, one by one. Can any of the work be re-done in order to satisfy the customer, or is it all about money?
  3. Ask yourself: From their point of view, is there any validity to their claims? Is it about workmanship? Accurate hourly billing? Mistakes or errors they claim are your responsibility?
  4. When explaining your point of view, respond in a logical manner. Don’t ramble.
  5. The very last things you should say are: “This isn’t my fault; it’s so-and-so’s fault. You made these changes, not me. I didn’t even invoice you for the time at home in my shop thinking about this job. I’ll take you to court over this.”
  6. The very first things you should say are,“I understand that you are not happy. I understand that you hold me responsible for certain matters. I am prepared to look at your claims carefully and discuss with you the limits of what I consider to be my responsibility.”
  7. Don’t necessarily expect the issues to be resolved at this meeting. Both parties may need time to consider the other’s point of view.
  8. If the customer makes a settlement offer, take it seriously. Prolonging the dispute does not guarantee a better offer or a happier resolution.Taking matters to the next level, either court or arbitration is costly, time consuming, and stressful for all involved, plus there is no guarantee that you will get everything you want. What you will get is a former customer who will likely go out of their way to bad-mouth you, either with various on-line service rating websites, to their friends or to their fellow contractors… or all three. That could be far more costly in the future than the balance due on an invoice.


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1 Comment » for Dispute resolution 101: “Stay calm. Listen. Compromise.”
  1. Jonas says:

    Although I agree and practice most of the points made in this article we must always remember that owners must pay for the work they have received and in each discussion you must determine each points legitimacy versus simply an effort not to pay the bill.

    This industry is one of the very few where the customer pays after the service or product is delivered. Could you imagine purchasing a new car, driving it for 30, 60, or 90 days and then sitting down and offering a settlement for the amount you owe to the dealer?

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