You’ve just been assigned as Project Manager to a multi-million-dollar construction project. Your project involves property acquisitions and building condition surveys. You’ll need to meet with the owners to facilitate these discussions, and some are more than likely to be emotional.
Does this sound familiar? Overwhelming?
A person’s home is one of their most personal and protected spaces, so when your project makes them feel under threat, that’s when conflict causes delays that can blow out your costs and program.
That’s why it’s so important to reflect on how you are going to communicate and engage with property owners. How you present your project, your objectives, and the task you’re there to do is as important as how you actively listen to concerns that may arise from these discussions.
For better or worse, the way you communicate with property owners has significant flow-on effects for your project’s duration. It affects your relationship with your client, your project budget, risks, resources, quality, and finish date. To make sure you get it right, let’s start where success begins: the planning phase.
Early planning is king
During the project’s planning phase, minimising impacts on property owners should be a top priority. If they’re unavoidable, planning the way impacted property owners will be informed, assisted, and compensated makes the next steps much smoother.
At this stage, it’s also essential to understand where your project stands from a legal and risk perspective. Often property acquisitions take far too long to resolve, with property owners taking legal action against the compulsory acquisition. Building condition surveys also take time, and for many property owners, it can be the first contact they’ll have with your project. Understanding your legal rights and contractual obligations and working closely with your client is imperative to streamlining potential issues.
During this time, learn as much as you can from your client about potential property owner concerns. Knowledge is key to planning the best tools, methods, and messaging to support the engagement that builds positive working relationships with your neighbours.
Use layman’s terms and be clear
Without being condescending, use straight-forward terms to clearly explain what you’re there to do. Be clear about project timelines. Be open about what is and isn’t negotiable. Be upfront about the processes, expected impacts, and ways you plan to manage them.
Avoid construction or legal jargon wherever you can. It is important that property owners understand what you’re telling them, especially if it could impact access, potentially cause damage, or cause long term impacts on quality of life.
Use the right communication tools and methods
What’s the most appropriate way of communicating with property owners? Depending on the level of impact, often a phone call or face-to-face meeting is ideal. Take relevant documents with you, such as design and plot rolls, construction plans and diagrams, and relevant notifications.
Always come prepared. Depending on the topic of discussion, you may require another expert, like a property law specialist or structural engineer to come with you. It’s okay not to know everything!
It sounds obvious, but active listening is arguably the biggest factor to achieve effective communication. Body language can demonstrate clearly whether we are actively listening. Ask questions, and repeat property owner concerns back to them to ensure you’ve got it right.
Express compassion and empathy – often this can be the difference between hostility and acceptance. Many property owners feel anxious and as though something is being ‘done’ to them that they didn’t ask for. It doesn’t take much to show you care and understand, even while the job must go on.
Lead by example and others will follow – as a project leader, you can set the standard that keeps your neighbours on your side and your project on track.