September 10, 2018

The Prophets of Profit: How to Communicate with Your Team and Your Clients Effectively with Debra Roberts


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The Prophets of Profit: How to Communicate with Your Team and Your Clients Effectively with Debra Roberts by Brian CalifanoBrian and Scott were happy to sit down with relationship and communication expert Debra M. Roberts, LCSW. Debra is author of The Relationship Protocol: How to Talk, Defuse and Build Healthier Relationships, which discusses how to build healthier relationships, resolve conflicts, bring up sensitive topics, and navigate tough situations in the workplace. Having been in private practice for more than 20 years, Debra has worked in nonprofit organizations in the areas of mental health, poverty legal services, health, and youth programs. The Relationship Protocol® communication model grew out of her extensive experience working with people in struggling relationships.

Click here to listen to Brian and Scott’s full conversation with Debra Roberts.

The Relationship Protocol®

The Relationship Protocol® teaches people how to communicate effectively. While writing her book, Debra realized that the basic components of the model are all components that exist in healthy relationships. Some occur naturally while others are taught. The Protocol teaches people how to function in the workplace to foster healthy relationships. The more you teach it, the more it occurs, until it is a natural part of the relationship.

Debra explained the two rules and four steps that her Relationship Protocol® identifies for healthy relationships.

Rule #1: You must have commitment to the process.

Rule #2: Shift your thought process. We often focus on what’s important to us as an individual. We don’t function for the sake of a relationship. Debra encourages “Turning Towards” to enhance the relationship and move forward in an effective way.

The following steps teach you how to communicate. Each step works together to effectively bring the healthy communication to the forefront.

Step #1 consists of three sentences. “I want to get along with you.” “I don’t want to fight with you.” “I want to understand you.” The meat of the message is that if you see conflict rising, choose to speak one of these sentences, or something similar. Express to your colleague that you don’t want to get into an argument. “You matter to me. Let’s not argue.” Sometimes, we get into conflict and don’t say anything. One of these simple sentences can change the direction of a conversation. You can also use one of these sentences to introduce a topic.

Brian and Scott brought up a hypothetical example for Debra to comment on: You have a client that you think you’ve been managing expectations for but you find out that they’re dissatisfied with the job you’ve been doing. Debra advises to be a really good listener. Don’t take it personally. Don’t get defensive. Listen to what they’re saying. What are they unhappy with? Respond based on what they’re bringing to the table. Acknowledge their displeasure and assure them that you want to figure out what’s going on and how you can make it work better together. Use “we,” which will let them know you’re going to work with them and that they are important to you.

Step #2: Start with Kindness. Debra warns against ever being sarcastic or rude. The recipient will never hear the message; they will just hear the negative emotion. If you’re yelling, all a person hears is yelling. You can speak in a firm voice and be serious and strong without yelling or being rude. Be respectful and thoughtful.

Step #3: “I’ll never do anything to intentionally hurt you.” If your partner is not pulling his or her weight with your shared business, you can say “I trust your intentions are not to destroy our company, but based on these facts, that’s the direction we’re headed.”

Step #4: Give the benefit of doubt. “I need you to give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m coming from a place that will benefit both of us.”

If, after all of these rules and steps have been applied, and your partner is still unwilling to compromise, or is belligerent or oblivious, you should consider whether or not your partner is great for the business in the long-term. If you ultimately do cut ties, figure out a way to do so in the most effective way possible with the least amount of damage.

Leave the Work at Work

There was a question from the audience from an entrepreneur husband and wife team. They’re seeing challenges posed to them as a couple. When at home at night, they’re often speaking about the business and there is seldom any “couple talk.” How do you separate your business and personal life when working with family?

Debra sees this issue a lot. If talking about the business is necessary outside of business hours — because of a specific stressor or the business is just starting out — she advises to set aside a finite amount of time to talk about the business and then to make sure that it is stopped on time. Personal time, without any business interference, must be prioritized. They must be separated out. Without being vigilant, the work will easily seep into your personal life and take over.

The Written Word

There was another question from the audience from a start-up company wanting to improve the efficiency of their workplace communication with project status updates, and reducing the amount of emails from co-workers and employees.

Debra acknowledges that the art of conversation has changed. In today’s digital age, there is more communication done through texting, email and social media than in person or even verbally. As a result, messages can easily be misconstrued and misinterpreted. People can ascribe a specific tone to a message even if it wasn’t written with one. Debra urges everyone to pick up the phone. Let the person hear your voice. Direct communication is the most effective way to convey your true meaning with clarity.

A different set of rules should be applied when responding to an angry written message. If you receive an angry email from a customer or partner, you need to keep your emotions in check before responding. While Debra always advises that face-to-face communication is best, there is a beauty to the written word — you don’t have to respond right away and you have time to think. Don’t aggressively type a knee-jerk response to an angry email and hit send. Instead, walk away; take some breaths; when you’re ready, calmly explain your position. You must slow things down when there’s a conflict.

Click here to listen to Brian and Scott’s full conversation with Debra Roberts.

Learn more from and follow Debra Roberts…

Visit her website at

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Brian Califano & Scott MargolinBrian Califano

Scott Margolin

Co-founders & Managing Partners


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