Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How you handle a conflict speaks loudly

How you handle a problem (as a person, and as a company) speaks far more loudly than the problem itself. No one is perfect. There will be conflicts whether in business or in social life. At times those conflicts are the result of an intentional slight or a boneheaded decision, but just as often they are the result of simple miscommunication.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference where a sponsor was giving away a fairly nice prize - a quadcopter drone and camera package. It is not uncommon for conference sponsors to give away door prizes at the end of the event, often on a "must be present to win" condition. That condition is stated up front though. While less common, it is certainly not unheard of for a sponsor to ship the prize to the winner. When attendees are invited to enter a drawing by filling out a contact form so the winner can be reached, the implication is that one does not have to be present during the drawing.

And so it was that at the end of the conference, I had a prior obligation and had to leave before the drawing. To be honest, I didn't think of it again until a few days later, when I ran into another conference-goer (the infosec community in Austin is growing, but still most of us know one another). It turned out that my name had been drawn for this prize, but because I was not there to claim it in person, another name was drawn and the drone given to someone else.

End of story, right?

Not quite.

I reached out to the sponsor, who had been on site recruiting freelance security specialists, and simply asked about the drone. I didn't really expect anything to come of it, but the first rule of social engineering is, you'll never get what you don't ask for :-) His response was not unexpected ... until he ended his bad news response by asking me for job referrals. "We changed the rules and gave your drone away, but do you know anyone that would want to work for us?"

I must confess, my reply at this point was a bit less than cordial. Not unprofessional, but no longer cordial. I understand miscommunication, but asking for referrals in the same breath as delivering bad news is not exactly good salesmanship. I bluntly said not to expect any job referrals from me, and figured that was the last I would hear from this company.

To my surprise though, the next morning I had an email from the Vice President of Operations for the company, apologizing for the miscommunication. The VP mentioned some changes in how they would handle future giveaways to avoid misunderstandings, and offered to send me a quadcopter as an apology.

That simple gesture took an incident that had left a bad taste in my mouth, and turned it into a positive outcome. It's not so much that I ended up with a prize (though I do appreciate it ... my kids and I have had fun flying around and videoing our multi-acre back yard!). It's that a senior manager recognized an unfortunate situation, and not only dealt with it, but took steps to ensure that future events couldn't result in misunderstandings.

As for the drone, it's not a bad little craft. This model is about 16 inches across, with bumpers to protect the propellers from damage if it hits walls or other obstacles. It came with a camera capable of taking still pictures and video (1280x720 resolution, surprisingly good quality in bright light). The copter is very stable even in a light breeze, though at barely a couple ounces, it doesn't have the mass to handle windier conditions. The manual suggests a controller range of 150 feet, but I've flown it at least 400 feet up and 200 feet away with no issues at all. A small drone with small batteries, it only lasts about 8 or 9 minutes on a charge (it came with two batteries), so no marathon flights, but all in all lots of fun.

Kudos to a company that doesn't sweep misunderstandings under the rug. Now I wonder if the 2.4 GHz communication between the controller and drone uses a decipherable protocol... :-)

Exploring from 300 feet up

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