"I heard I'm getting fired," a truck driver said to me one morning a few years back, taking me by surprise.
"Where did you hear that?" I asked.
"My girlfriend's brother works at the Pizza Shack," he said.
"The Pizza Shack?"
"Yep. And he said he made a pepperoni pie for one of our customers who heard the news from Tim in the paint department," he explained.
The lumberyard that I helped run back then was in a small town. News traveled fast. If something happened at lunch time, everyone would be talking about it by happy hour. And that's if something was true. If the story wasn't true, it traveled even faster.
"Oh," I said. "Did he say why?"
"Why what?" the driver asked.
"Why you are getting fired."
"The pizza guy?" he asked, confused.
"Yeah," I said.
"No, he didn't."
"Maybe I should check with Tim," I said.
"About why you are getting fired."
"Why would Tim know why I am getting fired?" the driver asked. "He works in the paint department."
"And shouldn't you know why I'm getting fired?" he asked.
"Absolutely," I answered confidently.
"Soooo," I said slyly. "What do you think?"
"I think ... I'm not getting fired," he said, relieved.
I did talk to Tim. It turns out he mentioned to a customer that sales were up considerably for the month, and we were considering expanding the paint department. Somehow, by the time that information got to the pizza guy, we were going to stop delivering lumber so we could concentrate on mixing paint.
All this stress from good news. I can only imagine how that rumor would have spread today, given how much bad news there is. In no time, "Sales are off in the paint department," would have morphed into, "They haven't sold anything in the paint department for weeks," to "They don't even bother opening the doors in the morning," to "They abandoned the place and fled to Costa Rica."
So now, more than ever, it is important to stay positive when speaking about the business. You don't want a negative message out on the street, where it can take on a life of its own.
But it's hard. In my experience, you can only answer the "how's business" question with a perky, positive response about 78 times before your face starts twitching uncontrollably.
The other day, in a desperate attempt to say something positive, I found myself explaining to a vendor, who inquired about our prospects for the quarter, that I was simply thrilled that this morning when I turned on the lights in the showroom, nothing exploded.
And even that turned into a rumor.
When I picked up my lunch at the deli, the man behind to counter gave me a sympathetic look.
"Heard you can't pay the electric bill," he whispered.
I couldn't help but ask: "You ever work at the Pizza Shack?"
Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600