How to keep calm with your subcontractor
Being subcontracted can be like dating someone who thinks they’re better than you. They pay for your dinner, expect you to hang on to their arm like some wet lettuce, they hold the remote, explain the news to you, and justify half truths and withheld information with claims that they’re protecting you.
Subcontracting, however, can be like dating someone who thinks you’re better than them. They expect you to pay for dinner, hang on your arm like a wet lettuce, gaze at you limply as you decide which channel to watch and, if it’s the news, explain the background, and they expect you to skim the stress from any situation and feed it to them pasteurised.
Subcontracts, like unequal (or perceived unequal) relationships, are a fact of life, so how do we handle them? How do we judge from the first tender moments whether this is a relationship that will warm the cockles of our hearts, or one that will end in slammed doors – coming off their badly-made hinges? What are the tell-tale signs to look out for?
If dinners turn out to be ingredients, slip away quietly while they’re busy scrawling your initials all over the to-do list
It may not at first be clear that the union is doomed, set on unequal footings. Your date may, in your eyes, be just like you; an architect who you perhaps even studied with. You might feel confident that you will have shared aesthetics and collaborative ideals. You might even decide to share each others’ meals and get the chocolate brownie with two spoons, and then lo, down the line they use you as sacrificial human shuttering. They start turning up late but still expecting to see the entire film in the 25 minutes left before some arbitrary time in their arbitrary calendar. They bring over all the ingredients for a slap up meal, and then reveal that they expect you to cook it, and they’ve invited their mum over. They continue these power moves until you realise that their true nature is cowardly and incompetent and that they’re using you to make themselves look good. My advice? If dinners turn out to be ingredients, slip away quietly while they’re busy scrawling your initials all over the to-do list.
When your date is of the artistic persuasion, they may well relish the imbalance of responsibility. This might suit the situation just fine, or it might bring irritations. The first will probably be figuring out where (and whether) you stand. Excessively creative sorts can one minute humbly defer to you on which route to take or which insurances to carry, and the next hold forth loudly and stubbornly in out of context jargon. You will eventually realise that they are measuring things on a scale perpendicular to yours and that for the relationship to continue, you must accept a level of charming bewilderment. In such situations you can only do your best to decipher their units of measurement and focus on the good times.
The polar opposite to the artist date is the engineer date. The engineer will cheerfully set out the terms by which they need you and you need them. They are more than happy to let you hold the remote so long as you let them voiceover your choices with know-it-all comments that cut a little too close to the bone. They – more easily than is wise for their temperament – find themselves buying all the dinners and explaining the news. This position does not suit them well for they are happy and amenable by nature and reluctant to risk upset for good of the consortium. So give them the car keys if you must but back-seat drive like your life depends on it.
The first tender moments (excuse me but that pun bears repeating) in the skilled hands of a contractor are often dangerous: it’s easy to get carried away. They usually begin by trying to please, and promising more than they can really deliver. Too soon you imagine the beautiful product of your union. Reality hits hard if when the relationship gets serious, they start to really let you down. Sometimes it seems they have charmed even themselves and expect you to understand and excuse the optimism of the early days. They might even make the dreaded mistake of mentioning past relationships – ‘so-and-so never minded’. Your toes curl. You sleep on the sofa. This tense time often kills the relationship in an emotional and dramatic way, but you can also pull through and form that sought after long term alliance. Slightly sadly, it may depend heavily on filtered understanding, but nevertheless, it is a love of sorts. Just persevere through the hard times for as long as is bearable but, in anticipation, stay cool early on and don’t sleep together on the first date.
Maria Smith is a director at Studio Weave
MEANWHILE... this month I’ve been excavating Scottish granite, had success with Highways Act Section 38 Agreements, and joined the inaugural rehearsal of the Studio Weave orchestra