How to Improve Communication Failures on the Construction Jobsite

Published September 7, 2016 by Whirlwind Team


What is the worst that can happen if miscommunication on a construction jobsite occurs? Pretty bad, huh? Construction safety is all about lowering risk; it’s the first line of defense against injuries, fatalities, and poor construction outcomes.

Communication failure is a huge risk and one that you need to do your best to mitigate.

The causes of communication failure

There are many causes of communication failure, but typically the issue is worker engagement; specifically, the lack thereof.

Every day you meet with the crew first thing to convey the safety reminders and provide instructions on the day’s work. Have you checked to see if everyone was listening? If you see glazed or blank eyes, or if someone nods no matter what is said, they probably aren’t listening.

Listening implies engagement; it means that information is being taken in and processed. If nobody is listening, nobody is engaged. You may as well talk to the trees.

Why aren’t they listening? Don’t they know how important this is?

Maybe one or more of these is happening:

  • Everyone is in a hurry to get to work so you won’t miss a deadline. They run off the minute you stop talking without absorbing what you said.
  • What you are saying is confusing or hard to follow; maybe even incomplete. There may be language barriers between you and your crew or even between crew members.
  • You are the one who runs off the minute you are done talking. You don’t give anyone a chance to ask questions.
  • An employee is embarrassed to admit to not understanding or has been yelled at for asking for clarification.
  • They can’t hear you. Construction jobsites are noisy.
  • They are tuning you out. Maybe you rub each other the wrong way, or they don't trust you.
  • The conversation is negative, so workers become defensive and, you guessed it, stop listening.
  • Workers don’t think they could or should speak up with ideas or concerns about jobsite issues.

That’s a lot of not listening. Lots of room for communication failure. Failed communication leads to failure in safety and failures in workmanship. It might cause a slight delay, or it could cause OSHA to come down on you like a ton of bricks.

That “tailgate talk” isn’t the only time communication is not as accurate or timely as it should be. There are other areas that could be improved as well.

Improving communications on the jobsite

You need to recognize communication failures before you can fix them. This could be as easy as asking for feedback face-to-face or you may need outside help to run surveys to determine where the problem areas lie.

One simple way to improve understanding is by asking specific questions about what you just said. This gives you the chance to clear up misunderstandings and lets everyone know you expect them to listen.

The jobsite is, or should be, a collaborative environment. Each worker may have a specific project or task, but that task must be coordinated efficiently with others. Without this coordination, you get delays and errors in work. Make sure everyone understands the goal of a project and how they each contribute to it.

How are they communicating? Do they talk directly to one another? Or do they take advantage of electronic communication, using email, texts, and cell phones to communicate?

Technology has opened up a realm of connectedness the world has never seen before, but that doesn't mean it is efficient or effective. Email, texts, and brief phone conversations can turn into a fragmented conversation. Data gets lost, and the information is not tracked accurately.

Technology can also fill in the holes. Using a uniform, collaborative method of information sharing can eliminate much of the disintegration of information by keeping a common log of information to which everyone has access.

Some communication can be automated. Instead of getting everyone together in a group to convey basic information, use technology to create automated notifications and updates. Document review is one area where technology can help by bringing all points of view together in the same document without having everyone in the room at the same time.

Accountability is a big driver of communications and one that software is very good at taking care of. Log-ons, additions to records, changes, and anything else has a time and date stamp plus the identification of the person who did it.

When and how to automate communication

When you want real-time notifications of events, you can automate the system so anytime someone makes an update, a notification is sent to interested parties. You don’t want to notify everyone of everything that is going on all the time. You do want to make sure the effected parties will get the information needed to continue the work.

Weather notifications, delays in shipping, and schedule changes are all good candidates for automated notifications.

If the communication problem is one of keeping up with documentation, you can use a software solution to keep track of reports. Many solutions have a database where a report can be classified as complete, incomplete, completed improperly, and missing. An automatic notification can be set up to make sure everything is completed correctly and on time.

Dashboards have become very popular. These are screens that provide a quick look at the status of a variety of areas. If you want to know more, you can take a deeper dive. Dashboards have become the best way for executives and others to keep up with what’s going on without trying to visit every single jobsite.

Whenever more than one person is involved in a project, there will probably be a miscommunication at one time or another. Multiply that by the number of people involved in a construction project, which is, as we always say, very complex; miscommunication can run rampant if you aren't diligent about keeping things clear.

If you can make sure everyone is engaged in every discussion, every time information is passed along and find a way to make a record of that discussion, the fewer communications problems you should see.

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