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This is the situation: some customer's representatives came to visit us and run some test on the product they use at our factory. A small team is assigned to stay with them run the test.

During the test a senior colleague belonging to the host team starts telling things like:

  • "We don't do quality tests, you know, we don't have the time for those things"
  • "Your colleague X is stressed? Oh, he should come to work here, we are sooo relaxed!"
  • "Our suppliers are no longer providing us this component we use in your product"

I think such sentences do not really favorably impress any customer, and would never tell them right in front of them. How can I address the issue to this senior colleague?

  • So what is your alternative? Tell blatant lies to impress the customer? – Masked Man Nov 21 '17 at 6:59
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    @MaskedMan There is a distinct difference between answering a question from a client honestly and spouting unsolicited disparaging comments. As for OP, honesty is good, but speaking out of turn is unwarranted in front of clients. – Frank FYC Nov 21 '17 at 7:00
  • @FrankFYC In other words, lying by omission, which isn't really any less dishonest than blatant lies. Besides, we don't know if the comments were really unsolicited, but that doesn't really matter, because of You Didn't Ask. Imagine the product experiences a huge failure in the field leading to a major PR disaster for the customer, and then they ask, "Did the product pass all quality tests?" What should the company tell them? "We don't do quality tests, and we didn't bother telling you because you never asked."? – Masked Man Nov 21 '17 at 7:08
  • Bulletpoints 1 and 3 seem like things I would legitimately want to know as a client. And what's the tone when he says bulletpoint 2? Maybe he's on friendly terms with client X and is joking with him. I think anyone working in the tech industry would see the humor in a comment like that. – Y12K Nov 21 '17 at 7:40
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    Point 2 is not necessarily bad, and point 3 (Our suppliers are no longer providing us this component) is just completely factual. It's not badmouthing at all. – Brandin Nov 21 '17 at 8:13
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In my experience there are two possible reasons for these kind of statements.

  1. Engineers point of view: All of the example sentences you gave dont seem to be untrue. So from a technical viewpoint it may not actually be wrong to say this. Problem is tone and timing. I know from my own experience, when I am concentrated on solving technical problems, it can be hard to also watch tone. As you can see from some of the comments, some people do not even think there is anything wrong with these comments. In this case, kindly reminding the colleague of the impression his communication can make on the client should suffice.(I did some programming for a marketing-agency once, and that told me how to formulate almost anything in a positive manner)

  2. Frustration: It could also be a sign of a deep frustration with how things are run at your company. It may be the colleague in question disagrees with how things are run, but could not change it an now he unconsciously uses every opportunity to make these - in his eyes wrong - things stand out. If you go with this person on a one-on-one lunch, and talk a little bit about how the company is run, you will know if this is the case with him. This is a little bit harder to solve. The professional thing from him would be to either quit or keep it internal. Maybe it is enough to point this out to him, but most certainly it is not your position to tell him that. I guess the best thing you can do is have an open ear for his, probably good, ideas and be his vent, instead of the customer. Maybe point out alternative formulations or say I agree, but this isn´t how we should tell this to our customers

In the end, as you are junior, your possibilities are limited. If he does not take well to your hints, don´t try to solve this on your own. If it continues and you still think it is hurting the company, you´ll have to get your supervisor involved. Maybe you can think of ways to do it without directly blaming your colleague. (That could be for a different question)

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What can you do?

Demonstrate to your customers how great your company is. Highlight the good aspects, and maintain an open, positive, professional demeanour with them.

Be excellent at your job.

You can undermine this guy's undermining through sheer good work and professionalism.

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"We don't do quality tests, you know, we don't have the time for those things"

The individual in question (given experience and role) must and should answer truthfully regarding the product. However, this does not mean that he or she is 100% knowledgeable of the product. He or she may have expertise in a certain aspect, but to say "We don't do quality tests" would mean that the individual represents the entire company, and throughout the product's development, no one ever, QA tested (which may even just be an intern checking a table). In other words, the individual doesn't have the authority to speak on behalf of the entire product. Even if he or she does, then does he or she demonstrate with a degree of evidence that the statement is more likely true than false? A personal statement =/= a scientifically derived conclusion that there is no QA tests at all.

"Your colleague X is stressed? Oh, he should come to work here, we are sooo relaxed!"

This has nothing to do with the product, it is what I classify as small talk. If it distracts the client from the product, then it has no value to the table. Although I can detect the sarcasm it all depends on the client. In other words, each word you say in front of a client is valuable. If you can't find a topic that is constructive, can you argue that the quoted would add to the conversation?

"Our suppliers are no longer providing us this component we use in your product"

This is all about phrasing and timing. If it is known that there will be procurement issues, then document it and assess its impact. If the next best input costs $1 it is not a 'big' issue. Note it and make sure it is checked for accuracy. If it is $100 more, then definitely it warrants attention and discussion in person. If a person is truly a consummate professional, he or she doesn't just identify problems, but offer realistic solutions as well. Otherwise the problem is moot, the value of expertise is offering solutions, why hire someone who can tell you whats wrong but is unable to fix it?


Your colleague is smart, but doesn't see the whole picture. Different skills and talents come to play when 'selling a product', the technical engineers and scientists developing the product and the social engineers and scientists communicating with external actors (in this case the client). Take a moment with your colleague and point out these potential perceptions of his/her commentary and ask them if their contributions would add or detract from the overall goal (to make a sale).

Don't make the mistake telling him/her that he/she is wrong, that will only aggravate him/her and sour your relationship. Instead, frame the situation as a conceptual question of perception and allow him/her to modify his/her behavior with feedback from fellow team mates.

  • Who's to say s/he's not seeing the whole picture? Could be s/he's seeing it a bit too well... – Y12K Nov 21 '17 at 8:25
  • OP is saying this, hence the question asking for answers. I saw it and I gave an answer. Your interpretation of the situation differs from mine and you have the right to perceive it that way. What I ask is that the next time you find yourself in a sales role, please make the comments above and note the results. – Frank FYC Nov 21 '17 at 8:29
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Is this senior colleague more senior than you?

Unless you are his superior you can't tell him (not) to do anything.

If you are both equally senior, you might be able to suggest to him that his comments aren't exactly putting the company in the best light.

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It also depends on the way it was said and what the reaction of the customer as well. Now with that context missing, it could also be possible in such situations that this colleague already has a relationship with the customer and is just making a joke knowing that they know it's a lie. Whether it is professional or not, in today's age of casual professionalism depends on the context and what the other side though of it

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