May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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How to Negotiate a Problem With Your Home Contractor

Dear Dr. Chani,

This summer, my wife and I finally got around to doing our long awaited home renovation. We were so excited to hear about a great contractor who does a nice job at an amazing price. Everyone we know had issues with their contractors so we were a little wary and we made sure to discuss all of the details and costs upfront. We moved out of our home for a week so he could change the tiling in our bathrooms. When we came home, we were stunned to see the wrong tile installed!

The contractor had sent us to a certain store to pick out the exact tile we needed for four bathrooms. We realized that he installed two bathrooms with the same tile instead of two different ones.

When I spoke to him about it, he brushed me off. He said the tiles looked very similar and I should not worry about it. But my wife tells me that she notices the difference and it bothers her. I went back to him and told him that he must change the tiles since he made a mistake. Can you believe that he told me no? He explained that it will cost him a lot of money to rip out the tiles and replace them. How can I get him to take responsibility for his work and fix his mistake?



Dear Yosef,

Your experience with the contractor sounds extremely disappointing and frustrating. You feel that he should do whatever it takes to change the tiles to the ones you originally picked. You might be thinking, “I cannot believe he does not realize that he is responsible to install the tiles correctly, no matter what.”

How can you convince the contractor to see the situation from your point of view and reinstall the tiles? Here are a few steps you can take when you speak further to the contractor. These ideas can help ensure the contractor gets the job done properly for you.

The first thing to address is the mindset for your next conversation. Even though you have already had two unsuccessful conversations, open up your mind to the possibility that this one will be different; this one will be successful. The more you envision success, the more you can realize it.

Next, prepare yourself with a BATNA, an abbreviation for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” This is a powerful concept in negotiation theory. It means that you explore your own options for what alternatives you can live with if this agreement does not work out in your ideal way. This is important because it enables you to feel less desperate when coming into your conversation. When you are desperate, your emotions run high. You might unwittingly convey weakness and it will be difficult for you to negotiate successfully. To create a BATNA, think of your best alternatives and keep them in mind as you negotiate. Keep them in your back pocket to have a more balanced conversation.

Your BATNA in this situation can involve several different approaches. You and your wife might decide that you can live with the tiles as is, if necessary. You might have options in terms of how much money you pay him for the job if you have not paid him the full amount. You might consider calling another contractor to replace the tiles. Whatever your alternative outcome is, allow yourself to accept that there is a way you can live with this situation if the contractor does not come around.

In addition, you can succeed better if you manage your approach to the contractor himself. Before you enter into the conversation with the contractor, try to view him as a person, not as your adversary. Try to separate who he is from what he did. A novel way to do this is to zero in on your real problem. If you analyze it, your contractor is not your true problem—the wrong tiles are. Having this mindset will allow you to approach the problem with the contractor together with him. Imagine that you are both on the same side of a table and the problem—the incorrect tiles—is on the table in front of both of you. When you enter into a conversation with this mindset, it sets your tone to work collaboratively with the contractor to solve your joint problem.

Furthermore, be conscious of how you converse with him. As you begin your conversation, start with a positive comment. You might say, “I chose you as a contractor because I heard wonderful things about your reputation. I would really like to resolve this issue with the tiles together with you.” Follow up with “I” statements to express how you feel about the tiles. Examples of this are, “I am so disappointed when I see these tiles in my bathroom each day and I notice that they do not match.” “I would really like to see the tiles replaced as soon as possible.”

Avoid using “You” statements like “You made me really upset that you installed the wrong tiles,” since this puts the contractor on the defensive. Using “I” statements is not confrontational and it lets the contractor into your inner world to understand how you are feeling.

After you have clearly communicated your feelings and your goal, allow the contractor to express his point of view. Listen carefully to his perspective. It might give you insights into what happened and why he has been avoiding the problem until now. In any case, your job is to listen closely enough so that after he finishes sharing his position, you can repeat to him what you heard him say.

Telling him back what you heard him say in your own words might sound redundant, but it is one of the most crucial aspects to a negotiation. It develops a connection with your partner in the conversation. For example, you might say, “I understand that this is difficult for you because it will cost you money to hire a new subcontractor to replace the tiles. The tiles do look really similar.”

If you do not summarize his points, then he can feel defensive when you speak next. He can tell himself, “I need to listen closely to prove my point in case he did not understand me.” However, when you tell him what he said, he knows you listened to him and you understood him. Since he knows he got his point across to you already, he will be more likely to listen with an open mind to what you say next.

Finally, invite him to solve the problem together with you. You might say, “Listen, I would really love this bathroom to have the tiles we picked even though these look similar. I know that you take pride in your reputation and you would like us to be happy with you. How can we make this happen as soon as possible?”

When you approach your conversation with these steps in mind, it can help the contractor to align his interests with your interests. He would like his reputation to be maintained and you would like the correct tiles to be installed.

I hope that in your next conversation with the contractor you are able to emotionally connect with him using these steps so that he agrees to replace the tiles. If he does not readily agree, revisit the conversation using these steps in a few days. Solving this problem may be a process, not an event. It may take time and a few conversations to get your home finished the way you planned.

Wishing you much success,


Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships, and provides free relationship resources at Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her new online course: The RELATE Technique™ – Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation.

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