top of page
  • Writer's pictureYvonne Root

When Heads Down Won’t Cut It

Updated: May 13

A Heads Down Story

I recently encountered a heads-down worker. She was courteous and kind when we first stepped into the space where she would be cleaning my teeth. Then, she went heads down to accomplish the task at hand. Even though I have my teeth cleaned regularly, I honestly don’t know all the required tasks and skills, nor do I understand how modern dentistry tools can and should be used.


Because of my many encounters with dental hygienists, I know that water should not be spraying constantly into the back of my mouth, making me feel as if I’m on the brink of drowning. After several pauses in the work caused by my swallow reflexes and gagging responses, I eventually ended up in a full-on coughing event that was much worse than simply needing to remove liquid from my mouth.


Each time there was a pause in the work being performed by the hygienist due to my swallow and gag reactions, she sat waiting with her tools hovering over my face. I felt the message was that she had a job to do, and I was holding up progress. Yep, she was heads-down, and I was on my back, feeling as if I might drown at any minute.


Heads Down – Getting “The Work” Done

At first glance, it would seem that having workers who are timely, efficient, and capable of getting “the work” done is an ideal situation. But in reality, a heads-down attitude can mean an individual is not noticing a critical aspect of job performance – relationships. It goes beyond courteous behavior and extends to respectful attitude and conduct. Further, in the construction business, it means that attention must be paid to the wants, needs, and desires of the GC or owner.


Keeping Heads Up

You and your team must actively demonstrate respect for your GC or owner’s time, money, brand, and personal circumstances. While the first two items in the list, “time and money,” are addressed in the axiom of being on time and within budget, the next item, “brand,” must also be considered.


Respecting your client’s brand means maintaining a professional and responsive demeanor. It also means avoiding accidents and conflicts while complying with legal rules and regulations. You may equate it with playing nice in the sandbox.


Your client’s wants, needs, and desires can be tied directly to the project or extend to what is going on behind the scenes. The final item on the list, “personal circumstances” (because it is often the most difficult to discern,) is the most neglected space for actively demonstrating respect for GCs or owners. Discovering the personal circumstances involved most often comes in the form of active listening.


Some behind-the-scenes happenings are easier to spot than others. For example, if the superintendent on your site doesn’t show up for a week because his wife was involved in a devastating accident, the circumstances will likely be known. But suppose that same superintendent is physically on-site but has difficulty focusing. In that case, it may not be known that he is concerned about his teenager’s poor life decisions.


Consider your client’s personal problems like deaths, illnesses, divorces, dentist visits, childcare woes, broken pipe disasters, fallen tree incidents, or even a lousy circumstance at the dry cleaners before responding.


Take into account your client’s personal highs like births, weddings, vacations, attending major sporting events, or achieving a personal goal, and let your GC or owner know you’re heads-up and listening.


Heads Down May Prevent Listening

Listening, genuinely listening, involves more than just the ears. In fact, what the ears do is allow you to hear – even though you may not be actively listening. The folks at The Executive Advisory have broken the effort of listening into six simple steps. They list them as – receive, attend, interpret, understand, evaluate, and resolve. They say, “Listening is difficult because it takes energy; whereas, hearing is merely an involuntary response to sound.”  


Compound that information concerning listening with the fact that often your eyes give you the “listening” information without involving your ears. Change orders, site photos, notes, project documents, and contracts are ways to listen to your GC or owner.


Further, listening goes to another level when you can see what is conveyed in body language or other nonverbal communication methods such as facial expressions, posture, gestures, eye contact, or voice modulation. For example, if someone is speaking loudly (maybe even yelling,) it is a sign that they feel they are not being heard.


Being on the lookout for verbal and nonverbal cues often means taking time from the heads down position to a full-on listening attitude. Look for times when a heads-up posture is more important than a heads-down strategy.


Suppose two different subcontractors have equal ability to come in on time and within budget. Which one would you choose? The one who is described as getting the job done but is somewhat challenging to work with, or the one who communicates well, is tuned into the people behind the project, and gets the job done.


Use Tools to Amplify a Heads-Up Attitude


Include a block of time on your calendar daily or weekly titled Solutions. Reserve that time to solve problems that have come to your attention.


For example, a GC or Owner has contacted you with a problem they need to have resolved. Unless the problem is an emergency, you can quell their anxiety by letting them know you have time set aside to look into the situation. A simple response: “I will be working on the solution to this problem at 10:00 Tuesday and will get back to you.”


“Unless it’s urgent, the true test of a relationship isn’t the speed of response. It’s the quality of attention.” – Adam Grant.


Gantt chart

Among the other ways you can put your Gantt chart to use is to adopt a heads-up, proactive stance with your GC or owner. Think about how well your GC will receive it to hear or see a message like this, “I see we’re scheduled to be on your job Wednesday of next week. Are you ready for us? Is there something we need to do before that date?”


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw.


Construction Management Software

A construction communications app that keeps projects moving and clients in the know can be an excellent tool to aid your listening skills. Our firm recommends Knowify for many reasons, including the fact that it can be used to keep clients informed and happy – partially because it allows you to listen to their needs.


“Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.” – Gerald R. Ford.       


A Final Heads Up Example

A few weeks ago, I was among friends who gathered at a Mexican restaurant for lunch and fellowship. One of those in our group overheard the waitress address a member of the backup staff as Billie. Billie was in charge of clearing tables and seeing that the patron’s drinks, chips, and salsa remained filled. 


Billie has Down syndrome, and he has difficulty speaking. At first, when Billie attended our table, he seemed a bit disgruntled with his tasks (if not with us.) But as each of us thanked Billie for replenishing our drinks and chips using his name each time, he smiled, and his face lit up. He also became more and more attentive to our needs. One small thing made an amazing difference – we responded to Billie by name. Billie cared more about us because we demonstrated that we cared about him.


Reflection: How can you improve your and your team’s heads-up attitude and actions? Remember – customer experience impacts your reputation.    



Ambitious Construction Contractors look to The Profit Constructors to provide advocacy in dealing with:


  • Clients and customers

  • Employees and subcontractors

  • Vendors and service providers

  • Governmental entities


Working with The Profit Constructors gives Construction Contractors the means to organize their operations in ways that help them:


  • Remain informed

  • Avoid hassles

  • Reduce risks

  • Be future-ready


Ready for action? Or want to know more? Get in touch today to schedule a complimentary discovery call. 866-629-7735


bottom of page