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  • Writer's pictureLily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag


being flexible without compromising

Recently, we have had some serious decisions to make among ourselves and with our builder on how to proceed with our home build. A conversation leading to a hard decision can actually feel quite uncomfortable and the decision making process is not straight forward. Arguments and interests need to be voiced and understood to gain the full perspective.

What we learned is that there is a difference between being flexible and compromising.

Any project, especially one of this financial magnitude for us and overall technical and logistical complexity, comes with changes throughout the implementation. No plan is ever perfect!

However, any change requires a decision being taken and you will need to find a happy medium between what you think is still in the best overall interest for you and what is taking you too far away from your ultimate goals and vision. We are only at the very beginning of the construction process and while there have been multiple iterations of plans and contract updates, we are aware that there will be a lot more decisions to be made in our near future...

Let's talk about how we can best go about taking those difficult decisions and managing the conversations respectively.

True North

true north guidance and big picture goals

To keep perspective throughout the project, you need a guiding point that you can follow under all circumstances, your ultimate destination --- True North!

What do we mean by this? Essentially, you have a vision in mind of what the end goal looks like --- in this case your future house. You will have mandatory requirements on your wish list that hopefully you have identified early on. This defines the ultimate goal. And whatever happens with discussions, proposals and changes, you would want to make sure you hit those requirements as closely as possible. True North, here we come!

The Compromising Approach

A compromise means you are settling an argument. And whenever you settle, you probably don't quite get what you were hoping for. This results in you diverting from the True North, giving in to suggestions that take you away from your main requirements. Over the term of the home design and construction project, you want to avoid this situation as much as possible. The obvious risk here is that you won't be in love with the final product when it's all said and done. And who wants to live in a house that is not fully satisfactory after having spent a fortune on a custom home build?

One of the key benefits we have highlighted as part of building your dream home is prioritizing your needs and not having to compromise as you would when buying an older home...

Let's be careful because naturally we want to keep people happy!

So when your contractor is complaining that something cannot be done and is suggesting an alternative, it is only normal to feel the urge to give in. Often times, we as humans want to avoid conflict and just make sure things keep going the way they are. We all want people to just get along. You need to remember that it is your money on the line and ultimately you need to be happy living in the house. After all, this is your forever home and you're here to stay. Your contractor on the other hand will move on to another project shortly after.

The Flexible Approach

shaking hands on a win-win scenario

Being flexible is slightly different from compromising because it implies being adaptable. And you want to be adaptable because not everything will go according to plan. So when the contractor comes up to you again, your reaction should be different.

While hearing and understanding all sides and taking everyone's opinions into consideration, you are able to see the situation through your own eyes but also through the lens of others. You are seeing things for what they are and you remember your big picture goals, including your main requirements. Once this point is reached, the decision becomes simpler:

  1. Does this change impact your main requirements? Be firm, but respectful.

  2. Does this change not directly impact your main requirements? You can be more flexible!

When it comes to these types of discussions, it is best to find mutual gain. This isn't always easy, but others will also need to understand your perspective and most of the times, there is an alternative that works for everyone. The trick also lies in keeping the conversation going when things are really bogged down and conflict is imminent. Ultimately, an idea comes up and a solution emerges. It's all about finding such a "win-win scenario" for both parties.

For much deeper insight on this approach, tips and tricks, we recommend checking out: "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In"

Here are two examples of how this played out for us recently:

Scenario 1:

Between our builder and the Passive House Consultant, it was not clear if the Passive House requirements could be met. Moreover, the latest design model required windows from a specific German manufacturer, with a lead time as long as eight months.

We were able to apply a flexible approach by being both firm and flexible. Our firm response was on the Passive House requirement as this is at the core of what we believe our home will benefit from. But we are flexible in the timeline for completion as we are luckily under no pressure to sell or move out of our current house.

The conversations were not easy and it took multiple conference calls and texts. In the end, the Passive House Consultant has been able to work with adjusted design measures to still target the Passive House Certification, without requiring imported windows from Germany. And our builder was able to develop a new project timeline that everyone is comfortable with. We're all happy with these agreements!

getting to yes with mutual gain

Scenario 2:

Our builder approached us during our last meeting to change the exterior of the east side of the house. Due to space constraints between the houses, it would be almost impossible to cover the wall with bricks and put in the required insulation. Our specifications state an all brick exterior!

Because this side of the house won't be too visible due to the neighbor's house, we felt that it would only be practical to go with the proposed change for an insulated aluminium or sheet metal siding. We could also tie that into other features around the house to complete the look and provide some added visual interest. We totally enjoy the look of brick, but this change is not diverting us too much from how the final house will look like. We are being flexible and are going along with the proposed change and will discuss siding options next.

Benefits/mutual gains: Our builder gets to implement an effective, practical solution and we get a product with a superior R-value, making it even better to meet the Passive House energy efficiency targets. Win-win!

There will be many more challenging situations during our home build (and whatever else life throws at us), we are sure of that. But we now feel better equipped to address them with the right perspective, being flexible and ultimately moving into our dream home.

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