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The Inner Circle - Budtender Tips (Communication)

by Budtenders Association |

Effective communication with your customers

In a retail environment, the most obvious form of communication we lean on in our jobs is verbal communication. When we refer to "communication," we mean more than just that. It's also deeply ingrained in our body language and other non-verbal cues, along with the language/verbiage we use in written communique (social media, internal memos, merchandising, etc.)

Communication, especially in our roles that are customer-facing, is critical. The compliant nature Budtenders must communicate within means you must be highly skilled in all forms of communication. 

Listening is just as important as expressive speaking.

We use the term active listening as a catch all for this. Active listening captures several different components of communication both verbal and nonverbal. For example:

  1. Eye contact – be aware of making eye contact with your consumer; it’s easy to be distracted at POS, especially.
  2. Posture – HOW you take up space speaks volumes; read consumer’s body language and posture as well: what is their body language telling you? 
  3. Mirroring – let your tone, choice of language and body language mirror that of your consumer; this not only helps them feel comfortable, but is a way to inadvertently offer empathy and validation. (being aware of your audience is important: how you might speak to an elderly woman; a legacy consumer; a “dude-bro,” etc. changes)
  4. Positive Reinforcement – casual or frequent insertions of words like ‘yes’, ‘uh-huh’, ‘mmhmm’, etc. can really be powerful in letting the person speaking know that you are actively paying attention; this can also be done by head-nodding, head-shaking, etc. in response to what’s being shared (and also part of “mirroring”)
  5. Reflection & Validation – especially for folks looking to cannabis for relief, reflecting back what you are hearing such as: “That sounds really challenging,” can be really impactful (especially because these are often the same conversations that tread the line of health claims/medical advice, so you’re not likely going to be able to help them exactly as they’d hoped). This is also a helpful tool in receiving and de-escalating consumer complaints!
  6. Clarifying & Summarizing – take a moment to summarize what the customer has asked you in question form ensures that you’ve heard them clearly, and also illustrations that you’ve really heard them; this is can also be a tremendously helpful tool in steering non-compliant conversations back into a comfortable lane for everyone (ie. “I’m looking for something really heavy to help me sleep” … “So you’re looking for something potent in THC?...that most folks use in the evening? ...that we’ve heard pairs great with a pillow?...etc)


Communication Styles 

Communication, especially in our roles that are customer-facing, is critical. The compliant nature that Budtenders must communicate in means you must be highly skilled in all forms of communication.

Below we look at outbound communication. Since we know communication is a two-way street, it’s important we keep in mind that the way we SHARE and the way we RECEIVE information can be very different. For example, just because someone tends to be more passive in their expressive communications to others doesn’t necessarily mean that they also only absorb or respond to information in a passive manner (ie. self-taught, research, etc.). We’ll dive into the complexities of personalities and values that impact communication in another issue of The Inner Circle, but for now, we’re just going to look at outward expressions of communication.

Traits of outward communication styles:


  • Passive: Whatever you want; I’m sorry (even when it wasn’t their fault)
  • Passive Aggressive - note: this style often communicates a ton with body language - Sure (then does the opposite); You’re so good at this, you should do it; Great idea (sarcastically)
  • Aggressive: That’s stupid; gestures and points aggressively, close talks
  • Assertive: I’d like to tackle doing the task this way - how does that affect you? It seems like we disagree on this - let’s figure out how to get the result we’re working towards in a way that’s going to work for us both.

Though we ideally want to communicate assertively, we all communicate using all of these styles at different times/spaces/places/people in our lives. Reflect for a moment, and think about when you’ve communicated in these styles. Where and with whom do you utilize different styles of communication? Which one is your “auto-pilot”?

Passive communication 

  • Have you ever held back your opinion in a group conversation because it wasn’t in line with the group consensus?
  • Do you feel panicked about being put on the spot for your opinion or thoughts?
  • Have you ever felt like your ideas aren’t as important as others, and held back sharing them because of it?
  • Have you ever fixed a mistake for someone else, without telling them?
  • Do you try to coach or “help” people rather than telling them their behaviour/performance isn’t satisfactory?
  • Have you ever offered your opinion, starting with an apology? “This might be a stupid question but…”
  • Have you ever texted a conversation, that your gut told you really should be something that happened over the phone or in-person?


Passive-aggressive communication

  • Have you ever found yourself sulking when you are unhappy with someone else?
  • Have you ever avoided people with whom you are upset?
  • Have you ever stopped talking to people when you are angry at them?
  • Have you ever put off doing things as a way to punish others?
  • Have you ever used sarcasm or humour to avoid engaging in meaningful conversations?

Aggressive communication

  • Have you ever used sarcasm or humour to try to motivate someone else?
  • Do you often use gestures to communicate what you’re saying? 
  • Have you ever not agreed with someone, and used that as self-justification to stop listening to them?
  • Have you ever shouted across the store at your colleagues, when you could have easily walked over and spoke to them in a quieter tone?
  • Do you often find yourself interrupting others?

How might each communication style might present as both a customer and a colleague?

Each of these communication styles result in different outcomes:

  • Passive: leads to misunderstanding/misinterpretation, people get hurt (because no one has stood up) or YOU get hurt, cyclical let down of expectations, your silence might be read as acceptance or indifference, non-reassuring/feelings of being unsafe
  • Passive-Aggressive:
  • Aggressive: triggers anger in others, makes others feel disrespected, escalates situations, builds up walls, 
  • Assertive: makes others feel heard and valued, builds team environments, opens opportunity for collaborative solutions, minimizes stress and toxicity

Suggestions with how to deal with each.

  • Keep your anger in check. Point out a passive aggressive communicator’s emotions/feelings in a way that is factual and non-judgemental (and note, a passive aggressive communicator will likely deny it) You seem to be angry about…

Final thoughts 

Enjoy your time with customers. You have the power to change someone day and make a positive difference with every interaction. Always be listening and learning to enjoy meaningful conversations with your customer and learn from these encounters!

A special thanks to Kate for developing training with BTA for Budtenders across Canada!

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