“Communication is always one of the weakest spots in any organization, no matter how good the communication is.”
– Tony Hsieh, Zappos
During my 18+ years in the channel, I’ve peered inside businesses large and small, and I have yet to find evidence to refute that quote. The only org I’ve seen that had everyone on the same page was when I was a self-employed sole proprietor. And that communication Shangri-La lasted only until I hired my first part-time employee.
In an effort to help resellers and ISVs improve their communication with customers and co-workers, earlier this year Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services launched a Communication Workshop that’s been well received by partners. We conduct a two- or three-hour workshop with the partner’s staff either in their office or via videoconference.
I’d like to share with you a couple findings from my engagements with partners during these Communication Workshops that I think will help you as a channel business leader:
Why We Hesitate To Communicate
Our workshop begins with a discussion of “The Communication Rule,” which is if you have a problem with someone or someone’s behavior and you seek change or resolution, you should talk directly to that person.
Of course everyone agrees they want direct communication, but they’re hesitant to make the first move. When I’ve asked why they behave that way, these have been the most common responses:
- These types of conversations make me uncomfortable.
- I tend to avoid confrontation.
- I worry if I criticize them they’ll quit.
- I’m worried about being met with hostility or passive-aggressive behavior.
- We work in a small office so it’s hard to talk like this with someone you sit next to every day.
Discussing these feelings openly in our workshops has been very helpful for the teams. First, they learn that their co-workers have many of the same fears they do – everyone’s a little scared to have a candid conversation. Second, each individual agrees to thank whoever follows the Communication Rule, not lash out at them.
Specifics Annihilate Communication Barriers
One of my favorite workshop exercises focuses on getting specifics. Good communication involves the exchange of specifics, not generalities. This is the root of most unintentional miscommunication – people go with what they know instead of taking the initiative to dig for more information.
In the workshop pre-work, participants read about best practices of how to obtain specifics, and then we ask them to complete this exercise: In 1994, a woman sued McDonald’s after she spilled hot coffee on her lap. The case was said by many to be an example of frivolous litigation. In Step #1, write your current understanding of the story and state your opinion if the lawsuit was frivolous. Do not conduct online research prior to writing your current understanding; your answer should be based only on the rumors and stories you’ve heard from others. For Step #2, Google “McDonalds hot coffee story” to get specifics about this story. Then write new details of the story that you learned through your information gathering and state your opinion if the lawsuit was frivolous.
The punch line is that the staff members who gather more specifics have their thinking changed the most. I’ve seen several examples where after step 1 the conclusion was that the lawsuit was “Definitely Frivolous” but that individual’s belief changed to “Definitely Not Frivolous” after completing step 2. Their thinking changed after learning McDonald’s knew for 10 years about the risk of serious burns serving coffee at 180-190 degrees; the woman who sued McDonald’s suffered third-degree burns over 16% of her body; and McDonald’s had paid settlements to 700 other burn victims.
Those who didn’t gather more specifics didn’t have their mind changed. But oftentimes when they hear the details gathered by their co-workers, they admit to the room “I didn’t know that” and adjust their opinion on the spot.
It’s a great lesson for everyone to experience. Staff members realize that instead of quickly accusing a co-worker or customer, they should conduct research and ask questions to obtain a full understanding of the situation before drawing a conclusion.
The workshops I’ve offered through Vantiv’s reseller and ISV advisory services – I’ve also hosted sessions on Customer Service and Perfecting Perseverance in addition to the Communication Workshop – are often the highlight of my work week. I’m happy to offer these staff professional development tools to qualified Vantiv Integrated Payments partners. If you would like to take advantage of these services, please contact me.
And if you’re thinking, “My team doesn’t need that – we’re pretty good at communication,” please scroll back to the top of this article to read what Tony Hsieh has to say about that.