Are You Breaking “The Communication Rule”?

Blog Post created by jim_roddy on May 5, 2017

I’m moderating a Communication Workshop for a Vantiv ISV partner next month, so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the most effective place to start a discussion on communication best practices. I mean, if the workshop leader communicates poorly, that’s not exactly confidence-inspiring for everyone else the room.


I’ve learned that the foundation for effective communication – with co-workers, customers, and even family – begins with the Communication Rule: If you have an issue with someone or someone’s behavior and you seek change or resolution, talk directly to that person.


Following the Communication Rule provides an opportunity to demonstrate the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. If someone has a problem with you, would you want them to talk with you directly about it? Or would you want them to talk with others, or say nothing at all?


The adage “Bad News Never Ages Well” is accurate. The longer you let a bad situation go, the worse it gets. Following the Communication Rule enables problems and misunderstandings to be resolved quickly, which in turn creates a more positive and more productive work environment.


In many cases, the person with the undesirable behavior will not know their behavior caused you grief. As a result, the individual will sincerely want to fix the issue. In addition, speaking directly to the person builds respect between the two parties.


The following four scenarios related to the Communication Rule show a clear difference in outcomes. Will is a field technician and Sarah is an account executive for Underwood POS. When Sarah calls one of her customers, Taki’s Restaurant, the owner says that he was dissatisfied with Will’s performance yesterday afternoon. The owner said Will was less friendly than normal and rushed through the job of servicing one of their POS systems. He didn’t refill and reattach the receipt printer before he left, and a new staff member had to figure out how to make it work on her own. Sarah apologizes to the owner and thanks him for letting her know about his dissatisfaction. Right after she hangs up the phone, Will enters the office and sits down at his desk across the room from Sarah.


  • Scenario #1: Sarah doesn’t say anything to Will because she is afraid of potential confrontations. She crosses her fingers and hopes this won’t be a recurring behavior. When Will leaves the office 45 minutes later for a maintenance call with Serafini’s Restaurant, Sarah’s biggest customer, she gets a pit in her stomach.


  • Scenario #2: Sarah doesn’t say anything to Will because she is angry at him. Instead, she walks to the break room where Kristin, a fellow account executive, is pouring herself a cup of coffee. Sarah tells Kristin about the conversation she just had with Taki’s and how angry she is at Will. Kristin only adds to Sarah’s anger when she says, “Yeah, we’re at the mercy of the techs. Nothing we can do but watch the customers that we bring in leave. I wish those guys cared as much as we do.”


  • Scenario #3: Sarah doesn’t say anything to Will and instead walks over to the desk of Stu, a field technician who joined the company a few months ago. Sarah vents to Stu about the conversation she just had with Taki’s and how frustrated she is with Will. Stu is uncomfortable hearing negative feedback about his mentor, and he isn’t sure how to respond. After Sarah finishes venting and leaves the room, Will stops by Stu’s desk to ask how he’s doing. Stu relays to Will a version of Sarah’s story about Taki’s. Will replies, “Really? She didn’t say anything to me.” Walking back to his desk, Will wonders to himself what else Sarah and the other sales reps are saying behind his back.


  • Scenario #4: Sarah walks over to Will’s desk and asks him if he has a minute. He says yes, so they walk to a conference room where Sarah closes the door. She tells Will about the conversation she just had with Taki’s. Will apologizes profusely. “I’m sorry – I rushed in-and-out of there because right when I pulled into their parking lot I got a call from the Assistant Principal that my son got into more trouble at school and they wanted to meet with me right away. I knew Taki’s wanted their POS system serviced before their dinner rush yesterday, so I told the Assistant Principal I would be there within a half hour. I should have just asked Taki’s if I could come back later to do the job the right way. Would you be OK if I went to Taki’s now before my 10 o’clock service call at Serafini’s? I want to apologize to them directly and then run through my servicing checklist like I should have yesterday to make sure everything is running correctly.” Sarah agrees to that action plan. Will finishes the conversation by saying, “Thank you for letting me know I screwed up. I hope I didn’t harm your relationship with them. I know how hard you worked to bring them in. I promise you I’m going to do better going forward – this won’t happen again.”


As those scenarios illustrate, the Communication Rule is fair treatment of your co-workers. They could be doing something wrong inadvertently or doing something below standard that affects their career, your customers, and your company. So direct communication is the best option, but why don’t we follow it every time? Common reasons include:


  • These types of conversations make you uncomfortable.
  • The person is your friend, and you don’t want to harm the relationship.
  • You feel you shouldn’t judge others. “Who am I to correct them? I make mistakes, too.”
  • You worry if you criticize them they will quit.
  • You feel you don’t have time to get into a conversation.
  • You assume they already know they need to perform better.
  • You rationalize that what they did isn’t a real problem. “Am I too sensitive? Was this really below standard?”
  • Resignation. “Even if I say something, nothing will change.”


Whatever your excuse for breaking the Communication Rule, you have to overcome that mental obstacle. Not addressing below-standard behavior directly and immediately with the person leads to co-workers talking behind each other’s backs, which in turn creates a toxic work environment. If below-standard performance is not addressed, you are essentially condoning the bad performance and allowing it to continue. This bad behavior/performance could spread to others, effectively lowering the standard for everyone.


Take a small step right now with the Communication Rule. I’m sure you have a positive opinion about one of your co-workers, so share that with them today. Deliver them a specific compliment about an action they took recently. Develop a habit of talking directly with others about their performance, and you’ll establish the foundation for an effective organization.



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Jim Roddy is a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services. He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as a Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) board member, and one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of the book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.