Fixed positions, shaky ground

Negotiation skills training needn’t stop in the workplace. Tyla Locke offers some advice on how to manage conflict at home – read on!

Q. I’ve been having trouble resolving an issue with the builder who built my house. The house has structural issues which have resulted in a leaking roof and damage to the walls and floors. I think it’s the builder’s responsibility to repair the damage as the house is only two years old and is still covered by the builder’s warranty. However, the builder says that it’s not his responsibility as the damage is the result of “normal building movement”. I feel as though we’re staring each other down. What should I do?

A. When things start to get heated, it’s important to try to remain calm and focus on strategies that will seek to keep you and the builder ‘at the table’ discussing possible solutions rather than heading down a more adversarial path.

Some strategies you might like to consider are:

  • Double-check the relevant standards (do some further research, seek expert advice, etc) – it’s easy to become entrenched in your own perspective, and so some third party advice may help to bolster (or reality check) your own perspective.
  • During your next discussion with the builder, summarise where things are at and pose a question about how best to resolve the issue.
    For example, “So, you’re saying the damage is the result of normal building movement, and my view is that it’s the result of poor original workmanship. How do we resolve this in a way that is fair and reasonable?”This will either refocus the conversation on interests (i.e. how can you resolve this in a way that works for both of you), or could lead you to the idea of involving a third party to help you resolve the issue. One option you could suggest to the builder is that you agree to jointly engage an independent expert (e.g. an architect, builder or structural engineer) to assess the property and provide their opinion (i.e. a neutral evaluation) as to who’s responsible. You could also agree to be bound by the independent expert’s findings to help finalise the matter.

What you want to avoid is digging your heels in and arguing back and forth in the hope that you’ll eventually wear down the other person and convince them that your own perspective should be accepted simply because it’s what you want!

If, after attempting the strategies above, you’re still unable to agree with the builder on a way forward, you can always decide unilaterally to take the matter to court or a building tribunal to have a judge decide who’s liable. Keep in mind however, that the risks of going down this adversarial path are that it’s likely to be more costly, lengthy and stressful, not to mention damaging on your working relationship (which will be relevant if a court/tribunal rules that the builder has to complete the repair works at your property).

Good luck!

Tyla Locke

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