A recent experience working with a boat yard in another state brought to light the difficulty of establishing two way communication, mutual understanding and accountability. When we discover a disappointed client or unhappy staff person take a moment to reaffirm that you are truly in communication with the person involved. Too often we falsely assume that we have open lines of communication. We make statements or requests and assume that the other party involved grasps our understanding of an issue because they say “OK” or because they don’t question our ideas. Only later when one or both parties are unhappy with the outcome do we discover that both parties idea of a good outcome have been left unmet. Here are a few pointers we learned in our recent boating experience that can be immediately applied in your office and daily life.
We purchased a boat in Maryland in July and had it stored at a nearby boatyard where we were referred. We created a list of some work to be done on the boat in preparation for taking it to Florida via the Atlantic Intercostal Waterway in late October. Over the course of the summer we had numerous conversations with the yard as well as email conversations about the projects and the timing of our arrival to pick up the boat. However, when we arrived we were disappointed to find all the projects were not complete. We found the workmanship at the yard was excellent but there was apparently no master plan expressed to the staff about when our projects were to be completed. And, there was not sense of accountability on the part of the yard manager.
Just because you are talking does not mean you are communicating. Communication requires a speaker and a listener. In order to understand the speaker the listener should be asking the speaker questions. If you are discussing a project as the speaker and the listener responds “OK” with no questions, that should be a red warning flag. If you don’t get any questions someone is not listening. Stop and ask the listener “What do you think?” If they don’t have any comments or questions they have not been listening. Either they are not focused on your project or they think they know what you want. Require that the listener describe to you what they believe you want as the final outcome of the project before agreeing to move ahead. Especially with staff, do not assume “they know what I want”. With clients ask them to describe what they think the final outcome will feel like or look like and listen closely for signs they might be expecting more than you can deliver.
If you are working on longer term projects with multiple steps demand a written estimate with a completion date. Unwillingness to provide these items means either the provider does not have the experience to know timing or costs or is unwilling to be held accountable. We should have put a hold on our projects when an estimate was not forthcoming. However, we were lulled into a false sense of confidence because the yard has a reputation of doing very high quality work. As a provider, don’t let a referred client lull you into promising more that you might be capable of delivering. Follow the old saying, “Under promise and over deliver”. And, “get it in writing”. Provide clients with multi-step cases a written timeline and cost estimate even if they say they don’t need it. These steps help both parties be accountable.
Be accountable and demand accountability. Our experience with the yard started well and ended with disappointment. When we felt things were going downhill we should have followed Mike Scott’s rule of accountability. ACCOUNTABILITY: Doing what you said you would do, as you said you would do it, when you said you would do it- PERIOD! We did not demand accountability as we felt we had several months for projects to get done. When the first completion date was missed we should have had a conference call with the yard manager and the yard owner to determine what was going on. In your office if you have a case that will be late don’t delegate the phone call to your client. Do it yourself. Apologize for the delay and ask if there is anything you can do to help out until you can move to completion. Usually clients understand. Your willingness to reach out and help can reduce frustration for your client.
Provide constructive feedback and be a good listener. In our case we were frustrated that we had to wait to leave on our planned trip. Rather than get angry we decided to get things done right and move on. However, after getting past the emotional aspects of the matter we took time to write the owner a letter explaining our disappointment. We did not just complain. Rather we pointed out where we felt there was poor communication or accountability and the steps that could prevent that in the future. In the office, rather than grumbling at a staff person when you don’t get the result you thought you asked for, ask a clarifying question. “Can you tell me why we are doing _______?” You might not want to hear the answer but it will clarify the level of communication going on in the office. When you have an unhappy client, put your emotions on the back burner and thank the person for their willingness to express how they feel. You may feel their concerns are not justifies but their feedback provides insight about how others see you and your operation. Don’t be in a hurry to do anything but listen. Often that is all the person is looking for. Once you demonstrate that you are really listening emotions tend to calm and rational discussion can begin to take place. You may not be able to solve the issues of all who complain but when you convince them that you honestly listened they are less likely to bad mouth you to their friends.
 Mike Scott and Associates, Quotes to live by, Totally Accountalbe.com