In Communication, Leadership, Wednesday Wisdom

The simplest advice ever. And relevant more often than we think.

Initially, I hated his guts. In my mind, Matt* was just a slick sales guy. He thought he was special. Special parking spot. Special hours. Lots of golf. Knew everyone. Characteristics (at the time) I didn’t exactly respect or embrace.

Early in our working relationship, I slipped into a cycle of complaining to my manager about him. There was always some good reason–expense reimbursements requested incorrectly, not following the ‘rules’ for the recruiting process, etc. My manager, Ray* (very good friends with Matt), would say something to him and the annoying behavior would cease, at least temporarily.

The turning point came one early March day when Matt requested (read: demanded) bonus/merit adjustment information for one of his employees, and I refused to provide it. I say ‘refused’ because I’m positive my response was as childish as it sounds. Tempers flared, and I once again found myself in Ray’s office, notifying him of Matt’s unacceptable behavior. Only this time, Ray reacted differently. He said, “Holly, if you need me to tell you you’re right, you’re right.” But then he went on to explain that I needed to figure out a way to work with Matt. Ray’s advice: give him a call. I stomped back to my office, now upset with both of them!

Here’s what kept swirling around in my head: I wasn’t withholding the information from Matt just to be evil. I was waiting for final approval from our corporate office in New York. I wasn’t allowed to share it just yet. As Ray said, I was right. Why did I have to explain that to anyone else?

I drafted the most awesome five-page email ever to cite every reason that Matt was crossing the line to expect pay data before it was approved. Fortunately, I didn’t send it. I set up a phone call with him instead, since our office locations and schedules didn’t always match. It was the right decision and a critical point in our relationship. It’s been golden ever since I picked up the phone that day.

When we actually had a chance to discuss the situation, I was able to explain the lack of corporate approval and the likely timeframe of the release of the merit/bonus information. Matt was able to explain why he wanted the information when he did. Spring breaks/vacations/time away would greatly extend the timeline for his employee to receive the information (keep in mind, this was long before it was easy to remain connected). If he wasn’t able to provide some insight to this employee on the timing of her merit/bonus information, she would have no idea when she was going to hear anything. It would have been easy for her to conclude she was forgotten if everyone else had been informed of the details but her.

Once I understood the reasons why he was so adamant about the information, we were able to come to an agreement on the best way to proceed.

Ultimately, there was a simple and acceptable compromise. And there would have been absolutely NO WAY an understanding could have been reached via email.

To this day, those four little words ring true for advice in many situations.

Stewing too much about…

Wondering what if…

Making assumptions about why or why not…

Pick up the phone to clarify.

I’m very grateful for this lesson so early in my career. I forget it, sometimes, though. In the name of being respectful of the time, I’ll choose to connect through email. In the name of being efficient, I’ll choose to communicate through text. And those methods certainly serve a purpose and are appropriate in many circumstances. But when there is doubt or question or the situation would be best served by having a dialogue, picking up the phone remains the ideal method to a solution.

In a time when electronic communication is so prevalent, the conversation remains the simplest method to solving most problems.


When was the last time you picked up the phone to solve a problem?





*names changed

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