A friend of mine used to say, “Cars have horns for a reason!” Granted, this was just after leaning into her horn for three miles while wagging her fist out a window and screaming profanities, but the central core of her wisdom was more poignant than she probably realized… and applicable to more than just unpleasant traffic situations that she was exacerbating. This next post in my series on Vendor Escalation Management will explore the important element of feedback when managing vendors in difficult situations.
But before you leap into your vendor escalation situation with the idea that I’ve somehow promoted road-rage, remember that I’ve also previously explained how we must empathize with people, and that we must be certain to maintain the moral high ground. Laying into a horn and screaming at people in the sidewalk is, suffice to say, not likely to achieve either of these goals. So, there are some subtleties that we’ll explore here.
The core, however, is that it is very important to tell people when they’re doing something that is not ideal or is somehow causing problems for you. This is where the “cars have horns for a reason” philosophy plays in. After all, if someone cuts you off on the road and you don’t bother to gently inform them of their little mis-step, they may not even be aware that they’ve done anything wrong, and you’ve missed an opportunity to bring it to their attention. And what if this is a general behavior they’ve slipped into without realizing it? A world of overly polite people who are hesitant to give a polite toot of their horn are just perpetuating the behavior. Really, not using your horn is a disservice to your community. I know that sounds like I’m being extreme for humor value, but I’m actually being totally serious.
The trick of this, however, is sharing our feelings with people in a way that still maintains empathy and the moral high ground - in other words, keeps you from looking like a raging jerk or a lunatic.
Balancing Information Sharing and Decorum
So how do we share our feedback without sounding like a jerk? Here are a few handy tips, some of which are hopefully obvious, but I’ll list them just in case.
- Be kind. I cannot stress this enough. BE KIND. In all cases, you must maintain the moral high ground, and that is mostly about kindness. More specifically:
- Assume positive intentions. Always assume that the person you are speaking with (or honking at) is as invested in resolving the issue as you are.
- Never be insulting. Even if you feel the person has attributes that are contributing to the problem, you cannot call them out.
- Stick to the facts. Always focus on the current problem and leave off the emotional response. If something has made you unhappy, you can express that in factual terms. “This has made me unhappy.”
- Never threaten. It quickly causes the person to evaluate you based upon the level of threat you actually present, and it’s pretty obnoxious. Like emotion, you may express your intention to take an action in factual terms, but be clear that once you’ve made this claim you must follow through on it, or it will hang over you if things go wrong in again in the future.
- Be direct. Do not “beat around the bush” or “mince words.” Explain in clear terms that you are dissatisfied, why, and what you expect to happen differently. People are hard-wired to read emotions in other people - body language and facial expressions won’t come up too often in most vendor situations because you’ll likely be on the phone, but your voice carries quite a lot of information as well. Short circuit the risk of someone reading between the lines of your speech by simply coming right out and telling them what’s on your mind.
- Own your part in the problem. In a lot of cases, part of the problem may be something that you have done, or something that you were doing. If you know this to be the case, be out-front with it. It will drastically expedite the situation, you’ll earn a bit of credibility from the person you’re speaking with, and it will shorten the diagnostic cycle to find the problem. If you don’t think you caused the problem, but you’re not certain, be sure to share that as well.
Positive Feedback is Important Too
So far we’ve only talked about feedback in less than ideal situations, and that is certainly important and tragically makes up the bulk of the communication we need to have during these situations. There is, however, another piece - one that I would argue is the far more important of the two, and very few people take the time to do it - the act of providing positive feedback when things have gone well.
You see, the quirk of humans is that we respond more viscerally to situations that are going poorly than to ones that are going well. We also remember bad things with far more clarity than we remember good ones. It’s a bit of an unfortunate curse, but the first step is understanding that, and then making a point to counteract it.
In other words, thank people for what they’ve done, and be sure to express appreciation for any elements that really stood out to you. There are a couple minor nuances to this that are important, but when you’re in the process of being nice and appreciative, the pitfalls are a bit less perilous. Even if you flub it, you’ll survive. However…
- Express appreciation rather than praise. Don’t say things like “Good job” or “You’ve done well,” as these things put you in a position of judgment or evaluation. They’re positive remarks, but they can be slightly off-putting in certain situations. Imagine saying “Good job!” to your boss. It’s a little awkward, right? Appreciation, however, is… uh… appreciated… universally and does not put you in that weird spot. Things like “Thank you so much for doing this” and “I cannot tell you how much I appreciate what you did for me,” are not only safer, but more powerful as well. (Interestingly, most of the current articles I found on this were around parenting…)
- Don’t gush. Keep the appreciation in line with the significance of the event. If you’re falling over yourself appreciating some relatively minor thing they’ve done, you’re going to look like a goof. A simple “thank you” will do just fine in some situations.
But wait… there’s more!
Like many of the things I’ve discussed in this series, these concepts are applicable throughout your day-to-day life. Consider our automobile situation. If you let someone cut into traffic and they smile and wave at you, you feel appreciated, right? And how do you feel when you let someone in and they don’t even look at you? I don’t know about anyone else, but that totally irks me. It’s a pretty powerful reaction in either case, isn’t it?
And don’t stop there! Ever been in a restaurant when a particular server was truly outstanding? It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve certainly bumped into it. And I make a point to not only tell them and give them a nice tip, but I even go as far as to track down the manager of that establishment and tell them how much I appreciated the person’s service. But the opposite is also true. If the person was really a problem, I make a point to inform them and I tell the manager that I had an issue. After all… cars have horns for a reason.
By the way, I don’t recommend complaining to someone who is serving you food before the food is served. If it’s that bad, I recommend letting the manager know and leaving. I won’t get into why. Just trust me on this one.
And as a total aside, here is a handy “we’re all in this together, be kind to one another, driving tip.” Whenever you’re driving, try to always have the person in front of you be someone that you let into the flow of traffic. You don’t have to let another person in until the car you let in goes another direction, but then you have to let the very next car you encounter pull in front of you. You would be amazed how many cars you let go before you, and it’s a simple thing to make everyone’s day a little nicer.
For my next post in the series, we’ll discuss how to shore up your documentation to ensure you have a good paper trail to help deal with vendor escalations.
If you're interested in talking more about the business of IT management, feel free to contact me here.