Friday, July 2, 2010

Words speak louder than reactions

I’ve heard the old expression so many times: Actions speak louder than words. That’s true, especially when the words sound like “I’m going to make the world a better place!” Or maybe , “Wait until you see this new program I’m going to build for you!” Truly, actions speak much, much louder than these words, especially if there’s no follow-through and the words simply turn into empty promises.

But… let’s look at another type of action: the knee-jerk reaction. How often have we taken a vengeful, spiteful, or anger-induced action before having a discussion about it? How often are those reactions a result of our emotions running amok before we have an opportunity to think about the ramifications of our reactions? If I do a bit of reflection, I can easily identify more than one occasion where I would have likely been better off talking something through than taking the action (the reaction) that I ultimately took.

Today’s Knee-Jerk

I have a lake house that I rent out, in Lake Anna, Virginia. We take pride in our property, and most of our guests return each year, knowing we strive to provide the best vacation environment possible. Today, our cleaning company emailed me, letting me know that I’ve been fired as a customer, simply because I emailed a punchlist of not-so-favorable feedback from last week’s renters, and suggested that her cleaning crew absorb the cost of the cleaning.

I certainly expected an email exchange, or possibly a phone call, with a settlement negotiation, perhaps. Maybe we split the cost? Maybe we educate this new crew on how to live up to expectations in the future? Instead, I received a terse email, stating that this situation is beyond acceptable, and that the cleaning company shouldn’t be financially responsible for such actions. So… we quit.

Do-the-right-thing attempt

Let’s face it: the damage was done, and it was unlikely that I’d be able to preserve a working relationship with this financially-struggling cleaning company. However, I took the high road and placed a well-crafted phone call to the business owner. I expressed the idea of open communication, and how, as a service provider, they had every right to call and discuss the cleaning terms with me, and even negotiate a compromise.

Alas, I was correct in my assumption: There was no way they were ever going to provide cleaning services to me again. They are running on extremely thin margins, they said. And since they already paid the errant cleaning crew, the company itself took the hit (less than $125), which now put them at financial risk. The bitterness and anger flowed through the phone line (it was on Skype, but you get the picture), and there was to be no compromise, no resolution, no happy-path.

Knee-Jerks in the software development world

Most of my readers are in the software development field, and probably don’t care too much about my cleaning crew woes. However: There’s a lesson in here for all of us: Communication is King, and should trump knee-jerk and emotional decisions!

Knee-jerk reactions are easy: Just sit back in your chair, fume for a while, and then act out your emotions with glee. It’s much harder, in a fit of emotion, to engage rational thought and communicate directly with the person or entity causing you stress and grief.

Think about the net result you’re looking for: Do you really want to pick a fight? Do you really want to sever ties and damage a potentially-lucrative future business relationship? Being in the software field, I am amazed at just how many people I keep running into over the years, from previous employment. As large as the industry is, sometimes that circle seems pretty small. I certainly want to keep these relationships alive and healthy!

Words over reaction

Will communication always lead to a satisfactory settlement? No way! However, I’m pretty sure that knee-jerk reactions will almost always lead to someone getting angry, hurt, disparaged, frustrated, and unwilling to work in a professional manner in the future.

Is a polite, professional phone call or email easy? Not always, and certainly not as easy as a knee-jerk email filled with venom and animosity! This is no reason to avoid doing the right thing, and exercising diplomacy wherever possible.

Today, I lost my cleaning crew. And this loss will have untold impact on their bottom line, as they can no longer showcase my business on their website or even use me as a reference for future work. Was the reaction really worth it?

As you run into your next on-the-job challenge, whether it’s with a teammate, your boss, your employee, or your customer: I urge you to consider words over reaction.

Related links

Our lake house website is

1 comment:

  1. In the world of Special Education, knee-jerk emotional responses are the norm as parents fight for their children's education and staff respond to frustration or criticism.

    Over the years, I've learned to wait before whipping off that explosive e-mail or making any drastic life changes. After peeling away the layers of emotion, I'm generally left with the truth. (Had my husband had his way, we would have severed all ties, gotten out of Dodge, and moved to your county three years ago!)

    Maintaining positive (or at least neutral) relationships is critical. That's why I always recommend Pam and Pete Wright's book, From Emotions to Advocacy.

    Besides, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. :)