Professional Communication Skills: Don't Shoot the Messenger

Posted by Kerri Garbis
April 17, 2013

professional communication skills 2Use professional communication skills when dealing with the bearer of bad news.

Many years ago, I was called by a Marketing Company to attend a Focus Group for Tumi Luggage as I have been a long time fan of Tumi. The Focus Group was taking place at a handsome research center on Madison Avenue. I arrived at my assigned time, as always looking forward to the snacks, and waiting for my name to be called. One by one the other Tumi fans we’re called into the meeting room and only three women remained.

The Research Center greeter (Judy) entered the waiting room, letting us know that our opinion was not needed today but she had cash and a hearty thank you for each one of us. The problem was she only had cash for two of us. Young Judy apologized for the confusion and asked us to give her a minute while she called the Marketing Company.

Upon return, she explained that only two of us were scheduled and that the third woman (Roz) was mistakenly scheduled by the Marketing Company. Judy had no money for Roz but did offer a sincere thank you for her time. Well, Roz didn’t take this news very well and started screaming at poor Judy.

“How dare you make me come down here and give me nothing! I gave up dinner plans with a friend for this. You fix this right now or else!”

I am not one to bud in when it comes to complete strangers but perhaps it was clear (at least to me) that this was not Judy’s fault and she was just the messenger.

“Excuse me” I said to Roz “this unfortunate situation is clearly not this woman’s fault so there is no need to yell at her”. Roz whipped her head around, eyes fuming, and she said in a scathing tone “well I have to yell at someone!”

Do we Roz? Do we have to yell at all? When something doesn’t go your way, before yelling (which you shouldn’t be doing at all unless there is a fire – see here for more details) stop and think, is this the person who is responsible for my unfortunate situation?

If this messenger is indeed the person who caused the problem, let them know in a calm, clear tone.

I suggested to Roz that she contact the Marketing Company the following day (she needed time to cool off) and explain what happened. I don’t know if she did or if they ended up paying her or scheduling her for another focus group. I do know that Judy appreciated me stepping in (she silently thanked with a little smile) and perhaps some day Roz will get it.


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