"Loose lips sink ships," I said.

"Whose lips?" Frank asked.

"Loose lips."

"Who is 'loose'?"

Illustration: David Clark/ www.clarktoon.com "Not who," I told him. "But what."


Frank, our yard manager, was sitting in front of my desk stirring his coffee. We were talking about Josh, one of his truck drivers.

"Josh's lips," I said.

"What about them?"

"They sink ships."

"He drives a truck," Frank said. "Not a ship."

"I know, but ..."

"I think he has a fishing boat, though."

I had heard from a customer that Josh had been complaining while making a delivery, and I was trying to offer Frank ideas as to how to discuss the issue productively.

"Josh was talking on a jobsite," I told him.

"Talking?" Frank asked.

I explained to Frank that Josh was saying negative things about the company on a customer's jobsite.

This is a very damaging thing when it happens. Whether the complaint is valid or not, the negative message is all that is heard and remembered, and it might signal to the customer that all is not well at your company.

Frank, perhaps out of loyalty to his driver, resisted my message.

"He's a good driver," he told me. "You know, you're out on the jobsite, guys are shooting the breeze ..."

I agreed. We all are friendly with our customers, so when visiting with them, on a sales call or a delivery or even over the counter in the store, it's easy to slip into comfortable conversations. But sometimes it's easier for salespeople, whose livelihood depends on a consistent company image, to remember that customers don't want to hear that there are problems at their supplier's shop.

We make a conscious effort to make sure every team member understands the importance of representing the company correctly. We start the process when interviewing for every position, looking for people with good communication skills and a nice presentation. At the interview we stress how our company values everyone's contribution to our success: the sales staff, the store staff, the yard crew, the office staff–everyone.

But of course, there are conflicts and complaints. We ask every employee to be honest and forthcoming about any concern or problem they have. And we ask our managers to be proactive. Finding out about issues before an employee brings it to management can speak volumes for our concern about a comfortable and enjoyable workplace. And it also means problems get resolved before they can be casually passed along to customers.

"I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it," Frank said, still sticking up for Josh.

Frank was still not hearing me.

"He was complaining about a person," I said.

"So he doesn't love everybody," Frank shrugged.

"He was very derisive about this person."

Tad Troilo Frank checked his watch, obviously bored with this conversation.

"He was complaining about you!" I finally told him.

Frank put his coffee cup down and considered this additional fact.

Suddenly he understood the importance of our conversation.

"Not only will I zip his lips," Frank said, "but I will also sink his fishing boat."

Now I had a new problem.

–Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600 E-mail: tadtroilo@mac.com