Of backwoods towns, train-wrecks, and feuding neighbors (i.e., an Email warning) (law note)

Train WreckWhat is it about train-wrecks that we all slow down to rubber-neck the blood, guts, and gore?  Whatever the reason, we all love to watch a good fight– especially those on-line, where people treat one another less than human.

A recent neighborhood list serve that I am a part of just had a particularly vicious debate between two people who, had they met over a cup of coffee instead of on-line, would at least have been civil to each other.  Instead, they sent verbal barbs back and forth to one another over (of all things) a door-to-door solicitor.  With the whole neighborhood watching.  What does this have to do with your professional career as an engineer or architect?  Glad you asked.  First, just a taste of the exchange:

Aggrieved Neighbor #1: 

I’m sorry for your view of the world and clear lack of broad social intelligence.  You add to the problem and underline the unnecessary drama applied to most modern dialect.  Please go get a few more degrees to convince yourself of your own intelligence.

Aggrieved Neighbor #2:

Nice ad hominem.  I never suggested that you or anyone else on this thread was lacking intelligence or motivated by ill will. Based on your last response, I still wouldn’t say that you’re lacking intelligence, but you are kind of a @#$%. Have a lovely day.

 

That was fun, wasn’t it?  Now, back to how this relates to your work.  These neighbors KNEW that others would see their remarks- hence the nature of a list-serve.  Now, how often do you send an email internally, not intending anyone other than your colleagues to see it?  Often, right?  Do you ever say anything inappropriate in the emails?  Off-color joke?  Tongue-in-cheek comment about the client?

Let’s say you’ve just had it with a particularly offensive client, and send your colleague this email:

Guess who changed his mind again?  That’s right, Mr. Wishy-Washy himself.  Need to revise the latest plans for the lobby area to include an extra work station.  Thanks!

Nothing too bad about that, right?  Would you like to have to explain why you are calling the client names in a deposition?  Cause every one of those emails is discoverable.

Here’s another one (modified from a real life example), sent to a former classmate in Faraway State:

Hey, Joe!  I hear that Mr. X is moving from Faraway to Random Town, North Carolina to run the Operations Facility There.  What happened to get Mr. X sent to a backwater town like Random Town, NC– hand caught in the cookie jar?  Drop me a line when you get a chance.

 

This email (modified ONLY slightly to prevent embarrassment by the persons involved) was actually part of discovery in a case I handled.  Now, imagine explaining to a local jury why you called them a “backwater town”.  The thing is, my client did not mean anything at all by the email– he was just ribbing his former classmate.  You know, the type of thing you do over a glass of beer.  Except here, it was documented.  For the other side.  For the court.  For the jury.

Keep these examples in mind when you are writing anything.  It’s the old New York Times rule— if it isn’t something you’d be happy to have your Grandma read about you in the NY Times, then don’t put it in writing.

Your future self will thank you.

Your turn.  Ever write or get an email that made you wince?  Think twice before sending those missives.  Jokes do not translate well in a construction lawsuit!

 

What the Triangle’s Construction Boom Means for Dealing with Hispanic Crews (tip)

Today, we have a guest post from Elsa Jimenez,  founder of English to Spanish Raleigh.  Elsa is a native Spanish speaker who was born and raised in a Hispanic country. She is an accomplished lawyer and translator who has been living and working in the U.S. for many years and is also a member of the American Translators Association.

Construction in the Triangle is booming. Whether new construction or remodeling, the Triangle Business Journal reports that Wake County construction permits for August were some of the market’s largest gains of the past year – roughly a 20% increase year-over-year.

The trend of new homes and multi-family home construction continues to increase in the Triangle’s towns and cities, with Cary leading the way with the most permits issued. Towns like Raleigh, Apex, Morrisville, and Wake Forest also have many new development projects planned. This makes our area a prime target for companies like Choate, C.F. Evans, Wood Partners, and other builders and contractors, as they make their way into these areas to complete these projects.

With construction being one of the top industries with Hispanic or Latino workers, this trend means much more than a booming housing and development market in the Triangle. It presents a need for English to Spanish translation of business documents, employee handbooks, and safety manuals.

Here’s an example of how one contractor met the OSHA requirements and bridged the communication language gap with more than just their business documents:

 

job site sign in Spanish

One of the nation’s largest general contractor construction firms here in Raleigh, NC, Brasfield & Gorrie includes Spanish translated signage in front of their Crabtree Valley Mall site.

With the growth in construction projects in North Carolina, it’s equally important to put this into context in terms of the state’s Hispanic population. North Carolina has seen growth in the Hispanic population, above the national average.

Image Credit: https://ui.uncc.edu/story/hispanic-latino-population-north-carolina-cities-census

Image Credit: https://ui.uncc.edu/story/hispanic-latino-population-north-carolina-cities-census

According to the Pew Research Center, of the Hispanics and Latinos in North Carolina, only 19% speak only English at home (138,000). 81% speak another language at home (581,000). The Spanish language is a pillar in the Hispanic community, and speaking Spanish is not going anywhere soon, making it yet another “must” for companies, builders, and contractors to translate their documents from English to Spanish.

So, as we see the housing and development market continue to grow, we are likely to see more Spanish translated materials.

Make sure your business documents – from HR forms, safety manuals, and employee handbooks – are professionally translated from English to Spanish to accommodate the growing population of Hispanics in NC, comply with OSHA regulations, and meet the growing need of streamlined communication.

The best English to Spanish translation firm will be one composed of native Spanish-speakers, who know the contextual cues and nuances of the Spanish language, and can provide the crucial aspect of cultural relevancy – things that online translation tools simply cannot provide.

 

Thanks, Elsa, for your thoughts.  Have you had experience dealing with language barrier issues while out and about on construction sites?  Share in the comments, below.

 

 

3 Unusual Signs that You Will *NOT* be Sued (tip)

good sign

So often, lawyers are the bearers of bad news.  What will get you sued.  Signs a lawsuit is coming.  What you can’t say (even though you’d really like to say it!).  What “wouldn’t be prudent”.  (h/t SNL).

Today, we’re turning that on its head, with 3 signs that you will NOT be facing the business end of a lawsuit in the near future.

Some good signs are obvious.  Such as when a client sends you more work, refers you another customer, or says “Hey, swell job!”  But here are 3 unusual things that are good signs, if only you understand what they are really saying:

1.  The Complaining Client.

When your client complains to you about something you’ve done, not done, or promised but failed to do, that is a good sign.  Yes, you heard right.  Complaining is caring.  It is when you don’t hear anything that you could be in the most trouble.  If a client is complaining, they are telling you that you need to fix something.  That something may or may not be fixable, but at least you know that they value you enough to *want* you to fix it, so they can continue to do business with you.  So the next time a client complains to you, remember, it’s much better to have a complaining client, which you can fix, than a completely mad one that will disappear, without a word, to the architect or engineer down the street.  Or worse still, to their lawyer’s office.  To sue you.

2.  The Always-Calling Client.

If your client calls you to talk about the project a lot, that can be a good sign?  Yes, even if they interrupt your train of thought and your design process.  If your client is not afraid to pick up the phone and call you, then you are keeping the communication lines open.  It is when you don’t hear from clients regularly that expectations are missed, misunderstandings accrue, or unpaid invoices result.  A happy client is an engaged client.  An engaged client will be in touch- often.  This is not to say you can’t set parameters, such as what times of day you return client phone calls.  But calling is good, regardless of the subject (short of a Trump-like “You’re Fired”).

3.  The No-Boundaries Client.

When your client asks your opinion on non-design issues, that is a great sign.  She wants referrals to your accountant.  He wants to know where you think he should take an important investor to dinner.  Any time you find yourself having conversations about things that are not, strictly speaking, work-related, that is a very good sign indeed.  People do business with those they know, trust, and like.  They also tend not to sue those that they know, trust, and like.

Your thoughts?  Do any of these ring true to you?   Share in the comments below.

 

Photo: Good Sign (c) Melissa Brumback.  Creative Commons License

Bats, Water, Soil, and Bridges- an Engineer’s dream

Want to know how bats may effect your engineering plans?  Want to hear about cool new bridges?  Read on.

Over the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of attending two events hosted by the North Carolina Chapter of the ACEC (American Council of Engineering Companies).  The first of these was the Joint Transportation Conference, held in conjunction with the NC DOT.  The second was the annual ACEC Engineering Excellence Awards.  At both events, I learned interesting information that engineers should know. Today, I will discuss the Transportation Conference, including some new regulations and unusual design methods.  I will save the highlights from the Excellence Awards for later this week.

Northern Long-eared Bat

Northern Long-Eared Bat

  1.   It’s a cave, it’s a bat, it’s bats, man!     Did you know that your future bridge project may be effected by the Northern Long-Eared Bat?  It’s true.  Right now, the federal government is considering listing the bat on the Endangered Species List, due to the 98-99% mortality rate the bats are experiencing due to “white nose syndrome”. Over 1,700 projects in North Carolina could be impacted, including work on bridges, culverts, abandoned buildings, and guardrails–essentially, any activity involving tree clearing, structure demolition/removal, or structure maintenance. On November 26th, 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service extended the comment period to discuss the implications of listing the bat on the endangered species list. If the bat is listed, there is no grandfathering of projects.  All projects will immediately be required to engage in protective activities. Stay tuned, but be aware that your transportation projects could be effected starting sometime next year.

 

2.  Is that a pirate on your map or is it worse–soil contamination? 

known and possible soil contamination

known and possible soil contamination

At the conference, we also heard from the GeoEnvironmental Section of NC DOT on their geologic symbols for known or potential contamination. Known contamination consists of soil or ground water samples that have been analyzed; or by evidence of such contamination as cracked transformers, battery casings, unusual odors while excavating, or new anecdotal information about past use. Potential contamination, in contrast, is for areas where there is no data, but historical maps or photos which indicate current or assumed past uses of possible contamination, such as gas stations, dry cleaner facilities, auto body facilities, chemical manufacturers, landfills, and manufacturing plants. Both known and potential contamination sites are important for designers, as they consider:

  • large cuts, drainage, utilities, or stream relocations in contaminated areas
  • selecting chemical resistant construction materials
  • additional costs for materials, remediation
  • other unanticipated costs or complications

 

highway stormwater program     3.  Water, water everywhere!  We also heard what’s new with the Highway Stormwater Program, including the updated Post-Construction Stormwater Program and the companion Stormwater BMP Toolbox manual. To learn more about these programs, check out:

  • The NCDOT Stormwater website, which contains useful links; and
  • The Highway Stormwater youtube chancel of training videos, which is still in development but will include environmental sensitivity maps, nutrient load accounting tools, and stormwater management plans.

 

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge

4.  Cool, cool bridges  One of the highlights of the conference was hearing about some truly unique bridge designs, including:

  • The Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing, in New York, featuring twin-tower cable stayed structures and all electronic toll collection
  • Vietnam’s Dragon Bridge, a truly working piece of art; and
  • The Milton-Madison Bridge Slide, (Indiana/Kentucky) the longest bridge slide in North America.  The Milton-Madison Bridge Slide was  a feat of engineering design.  Using “truss sliding” a new 2,427 foot long truss was moved along steel rails and plates and “slid” into place atop the existing, rehabilitated, bridge piers.

 

What about you?  Did you attend the conference?  If so, what insight did you take away?  Share in the comments, below.

 

Photo credits:  Bats ; soil marks from NCDOT presentation; Dragon Bridge

We have beer! (Marketing Tip)

beer  I saw this sign outside the Jacksonville, North Carolina regional airport.  For those of you who don’t know, Jacksonville is home to Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corp base.  Many of the passengers are coming from or going to the base.

Think a Marine on R&R might like a brewskie or two?  Probably so.  Thus the sign Yes We have Beer.

Like it or not, we’re all in the marketing business.  Yes, you are a design professional, and went to school for years to be a licensed architect or a registered engineer.  But, you also need to keep the clients coming in, and cash flow flowing.  So today’s marketing tip:  remember your audience!

It’s a simple thing, but something that many folks forget.  Write the proposal or your brochure copy with the client in mind, not to impress the client with your erudite vocabulary  (Yes, I’m using the word erudite — I saw the movie Divergent this weekend, so it can’t be helped!)

Your turn.  What marketing tips have you learned along the way?  What have you learned *not* to do?  Share in the comments section, below.
And, if you haven’t already signed up for the white paper and newsletter, go do that now, while you are thinking about it.  The form is on the top right of the homepage.

 

Creative Commons License
Photo: “We Have Beer” by Melissa Brumback

 

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