7 Rules For Managing Conflict With Your EdTech Vendors

When was the last time that you got angry with one of your edtech vendors? Did you express your anger to your contact at the company?

April 23, 2012

When was the last time that you got angry with one of your edtech vendors? Did you express your anger to your contact at the company?   

I had a situation today where I was very unhappy with one of our edtech partners, and I expressed this displeasure in strong terms during a conference call.  

The expression of strong negative reactions is fairly unusual in our line of work. It is not that we are afraid of conflict, but rather that collegiality and positive interactions are deeply ingrained in the culture of higher ed.

Are there any rules of thumbs or guidelines that you use to govern your non-positive interactions with your edtech partners? I'd like to suggest a few:

1. Be Authentic: The reason that I expressed my strong dissatisfaction with my vendor partner today in the conference call was not because of the bug that we were dealing with, but because the vendor came unprepared for the meeting. For whatever reason, the vendor team did not communicate internally with the key people on the call about the issues. This meant that the vendor people that I was speaking with were unprepared to deal with the issues at hand. They were wasting my time. My negative reaction was driven by this lack of preparation, and I wanted to make very clear that not following through with promised actions and not being prepared for the discussion are not acceptable behaviors in our client/vendor relationship. Never express displeasure for show or in the hopes of gaining some advantage (it won't work), but if you are genuinely not happy then don't be afraid to express your thoughts and your reasons.

2. The "No Asshole Rule" Applies: Although I was not happy with my vendors preparation or follow-through on the issue we were dealing with, a displeasure I made very clear, I maintained a professional demeanor. This means no yelling, no interrupting, no whining, and basically no nasty behavior. It is okay to state very clearly why you are not happy, and to do so forcefully, but this must be done professionally.

3. Don't Confuse Vendor Partners With Friends: It is important for your vendor partners to respect you, but they don't need to like you. Respect is built on actions and not words. Do what you say you will do, and expect the same from your vendors. Act towards your  company partners in the same way that you wish to be treated.  

4. Be Clear and Direct: It is very important to be clear and direct about the issues in which you are upset about. Don't make the mistake of rattling off a long laundry list of complaints. Stick to the big issue or issues at hand, and be able to articulate what you believe to the proper solution. Complaining without offering an alternative path will get you nowhere.   

5. Be Fair: In my experience most problems between a university and an edtech vendor are caused by mistakes on both sides. Seldom is the company completely to blame for any problem that arises. If you or your institution did something to contribute to the problem then be prepared to readily admit this fact. By taking responsibility for the issues on your side of the relationship you will gain credibility and trust.

6. Put Yourself In Their Shoes: Try to think about how the conflict or disagreement looks from the perspective of your vendor partners. They might be as unhappy as you are, as companies are not monolithic organizations and the responsibility for whatever problem you are working on may have originated somewhere else. Edtech sales people always over-promise, but are seldom around to deal with subsequent issues. Resources and time are as scarce at edtech companies as they are on your campus. This does not excuse not living up promises or not following through with commitments, but perhaps may partially explain the roots of these problems. Understanding the constraints and motivations of your edtech partners will assist in your negotiating process, and will help you resolve issues with greater efficiency.

7. Be Patient: Realize that any problems you are having with your edtech vendors will not be resolved instantly. Technology is complicated, and organizations are imperfect. All relationships are somewhat ambivalent, and it is important to take a realistic and long-term approach to your work with your vendor partners.


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