Businesses mess up from time to time. Even the good ones. Especially your suppliers.

Supplier screw-ups can really be frustrating for a purchasing professional. And when something goes wrong, you may come close to losing your temper and doing something you’d later regret.

I was reminded of this when reading today’s American Entrepreneur blog entry entitled “Count To Ten.” The author, Ron Morris, tells a humorous story about how, in a fit of frustration, he once mailed a nasty letter to a prospective client only to have the recipient call on the day that the letter was due to arrive and tell Mr. Morris that the prospective client was going to accept Mr. Morris’ sales proposal.

The lesson of the blog was to keep your emotions in check by utilizing resources of time and counsel. Morris writes, “Time will help you to purge your emotions. A good partner or confidante can also do the same thing, and in fact, can do it in ‘real time’ by taking you by the elbow and whispering in your ear ‘You’re letting your heart make a brain-type decision here.’”

Of course, in a purchasing-intensive career like my own, I’ve had to restrain myself from berating suppliers more than once (or a thousand times). A technique I always like to do is to call the supplier, explain the problem, and ask a four-word question.

What are those four words?

How did this happen?

Many times when asking this question, I’ve found that the problem was caused by my own company, a reasonable misunderstanding, or even, gulp, me. In those cases, if I would have acted on emotion, I would have embarrassed myself for blaming the supplier for something that was not the supplier’s fault. In the worst-case scenario, making that mistake could have spelled the end of a profitable supplier relationship.

So, I encourage you to use those four words to help you avoid a supplier relationship disaster.

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