Firehouse Subs employee confrontation demonstrates America’s communication breakdown

Is civil and productive communication dead? Americans are more divided than ever: Republican and Democrat; black and white; northerner and southerner; essential worker and non essential; east coast and west coast; the 99% and 1%; citizen and immigrant; mask and no mask. The list goes on and on.

During a recent trip to Firehouse Subs, employees argued loudly about “respect” by commanding the attention of the entire restaurant.

For the purposes of examining communication, I won’t get into who is “right” or “wrong” in the video. The video exchange demonstrates some of the following core communication principles:

  • You can’t win an argument – It is not possible to “win” an argument. By arguing you entrench someone into their position. Even if you can objectively win an argument, the sore feelings in the other party would prevent the accomplishment of any communication goal.
  • No one is listening – In a heated exchange, neither party is actively listening. When people feel like they are not being heard, they speak louder. This is an important principle in both customer service and crisis communication. It can help you to even repeat back the complaint. “If I am hearing you correctly, you are feeling like you are not being respected and would like to be treated more professionally.”
  • No respect – Both parties are arguing about respect, but they are not demonstrating respect to each other. Here are some concepts missing from modern discourse: civility; manners; etiquette; courtesy; politeness; decency; propriety; and gallantry.
  • Corporate response – The corporate Firehouse Subs team quickly responded to a tweet about the altercation and correctly encouraged to move the discussion offline with a link to their website form. Unfortunately, that’s where the communication ended. There was no follow up. It was a missed communication opportunity on behalf of the corporate team. An appropriate response would be a statement about the expectations of employee conduct or customer experience.

To learn more about effective forms of communication and persuasion, listen to the PR Wars podcast: The Power of Persuasion.

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