Poor communication — or no communication — is perhaps the most frustrating challenge confronting those who must work with unresponsive suppliers. We send email and get no response. We telephone, only to reach voicemail or be screened by someone who takes a message. Again, no reponse. We try calling at odd hours, hoping to catch our target unaware and unscreened, and when we do connect, we hear "I can't get that right now, but I'll get back to you." Right.
Only the supplier can control the supplier's behavior. What we control is our own behavior. Before applying other (possibly more coercive) methods of securing cooperation, ensure that your own house is in order. Here are some suggestions for encouraging cooperative behavior.
- Limit the number of people empowered to contact the supplier
- A single point of contact is usually enough, but if more are needed, keep the number small, and designate a principal contact. If you do have multiple contacts, don't contradict each other, do keep each other informed, and don't repeat messages to the supplier unnecessarily. To avoid turnover in the principal contact role, choose people who are unlikely to retire, or be terminated, or be reassigned. Favor people with experience in the role, and who are credible and possess a professional demeanor.
- Be available and responsive
- Difficulty in reaching people in your organization can elicit similar unavailability among people in the supplier organization. Be certain that the supplier can reach anyone when needed, by phone, voicemail, email, or text. Return all contact attempts promptly. Single-number unified mobile and desk-based telephone systems systems are essential.
- Use the telephone
- Telephone conversations are more effective than email messages, because they're more conducive to mutual understanding. Sadly, unresponsive suppliers are likely unavailable by telephone, but try anyway. Time zone differences can make telephone contact difficult, but if a live telephone conversation can resolve the problem, waking at 2 AM to make a phone call will be worthwhile.
- Keep email messages short and focused
- Because email Telephone conversations are more
effective than email messages,
because they're more conducive
to mutual understandingtraffic can become annoying, minimize it. Stick to one topic per message. Use a subject line that corresponds to the topic — don't recycle subject lines. Send messages only to the people who need to read them.
- Limit the number and length of meetings
- If supplier representatives are expected to attend face-to-face or virtual meetings, limit the length and frequency of the meetings. Conduct meetings with ruthless efficiency.
- Notice early indications of unresponsiveness
- If you suspect that the supplier might become unresponsive, conduct a few tests and log the results. Use this data to alert others on your team to the issue and ask them to report similar performance issues. If a problematic pattern emerges, decide what to do as a team, or solicit advice and assistance from elsewhere in your organization.
Is your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- The Fine Art of Quibbling
- We usually think of quibbling as an innocent swan dive into unnecessary detail, like calculating shares
of a lunch check to the nearest cent. In debate about substantive issues, a detour into quibbling can
be far more threatening — it can indicate much deeper problems.
- Managing Pressure: The Unexpected
- When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this
happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing
- Ending Conversations
- At times, we need to end the current conversation. It's going nowhere, or we have something important
to do, or we just don't want to deal with the other person. Here are some suggestions for ending conversations.
- Rapid-Fire Attacks
- Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question,
or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being
attacked. What can you do?
- Contextual Causes of Conflict: II
- Too often we assume that the causes of destructive conflict lie in the behavior or personalities of
the people directly participating in the conflict. Here's Part II of an exploration of causes that lie
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 23: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IX
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- And on May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
- When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
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