How construction leaders can respond constructively

It is a massive understatement to say that leaders in construction have a lot coming at them at all times. Client feedback. Equipment breakdowns. Change orders. Scheduling challenges. And of course, people issues are just some of the challenges professionals in construction deal with everyday.

For a project manager on deadline or an estimator when a bid’s about to close, for a business owner or site supervisor, high intensity environments are the norm. 

So, it’s not surprising when a poorly chosen word or badly timed comment from a colleague sends a construction leader spiraling. Things are moving fast. When something or someone comes at us unexpectedly, it’s easy to slip into reaction mode, or auto-pilot, and instinctively react in anger or annoyance or outrage.

But what if there was a different way to think and communicate in the midst of high-intensity work? How would our experience of leading in construction be different if we had the ability to choose how we interpret and respond to the challenges that come at us and what is said to us in our daily work?   

Remember that old saying: “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”?

Psychologists will tell you that this is absolutely true. The words of others are not what hurt us. What can hurt us is how we interpret those words – the stories we tell ourselves about the meaning behind those words: “he doesn’t like me”, “she doesn’t think I’m competent”, “he’s an idiot”, “she doesn’t care”, and so on…

The author of the stories we tell ourselves is us. No one else. Even if someone actually does call us an “idiot”. We can choose whether or not to latch onto that thought, how to interpret it, and ultimately how to respond. All of that is within our control.

In any situation – whether it’s a troubling word or action of someone we work with or simply a difficult situation that’s occurred – it is helpful to ask “what in this situation is in my control?”. 

Usually the answer is we can control how we choose to respond. We can notice the stories our mind is telling us about what just happened. We can notice the feelings that are accompanying those stories. We can notice if we are getting hooked by those feelings and stories. We can notice if we are about to go into “auto-pilot” and “reaction mode”.

And then we can choose a response that helps, that is constructive for us and for others, that is aligned with the leader we want to be.

And we can choose a new thought: “What can I learn from this?”, “How can I be helpful?”, “What compromise can we come up with?”.  

At all times, and especially as we lead in high-intensity construction environments, we don’t have to operate on auto-pilot. We can choose to lead consciously. We can choose to lead constructively. We can choose to be the leader we aspire to be.

So, the next time the poop hits the fan at work. And it will. Take a moment to pause the autopilot, notice the stories your mind is telling you, and then choose a response that helps.

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