If you haven’t done some things in business that required you to have a hat-in-hand conversation with a client or vendor, I have a word to describe you: ROOKIE. You’ve either experienced this or you are a newbie. It’s that simple. Personally, I’ve made mistakes in how I’ve dealt with clients, drawing too hard of lines, etc. I’ve simply messed up. Here is how we handle it.
- We acknowledge our ownership of it. Right out of the gates is where most people mess this up. Here is what happens: We realize we’ve made an error, and instead of dealing with it with humility, we become defensive. That said, we all know that almost everything has two sides. But here’s the thing: You have ZERO control over how they handle their side of the conflict. So start with simply acknowledging ownership of your side.
- Allow the client to vent. We need to let the client vent for multiple reasons: 1) To adequately understand their challenge; 2) To be able to appropriately address the challenge; 3) So that we may effectively absorb all of the criticism for our own learning purposes. Once the client has offered all of their feedback, ask this: “Was there anything else at all that you wish to address?” Try this at least twice. Perhaps: “It seemed like there was something more you wanted to say about xyz. I’d like to hear it.” This is especially important for your kinder, gentler clients. Encourage them and let them know it is a safe place to give their unfiltered feedback.
- Declare your intentions. Here is my perspective on conflict. Firstly, it is of utmost importance that it be fully vented. BUT AS SOON AS THAT HAS HAPPENED, you must immediately switch into the solution phase. Some people will want to dwell in the negative for a while. At some point you have to take the lead and pull things up and resolve the issues. For me, that looks like this:
- I say: “Before we start working to resolve this, I want you to know that I am committed to leaving your kitchen table tonight as friends. Beyond everything else, that is the most important to me. I think if we are both committed to that, I think everything else will sort itself out. Do you feel similarly?” (they are allowed to not feel similarly)
- Next, I say: “And I’ve heard everything you said. I took notes. I have much to work on. And I am committed to not leaving this table until I can get you everything you need to be happy in a way that is also equitable for me, which I know you want. Does that work for you?”
- Resolve the problem. Make this short and sweet. Come to an equitable solution, thank them for their understanding, and let them know you look forward to an excellent conclusion to your project together. Wrap it up, don’t linger, move forward, and DO NOT revisit the issues once they are resolved. In my experience, steps 1-3 will solve everything. Once people know that you aren’t there to fight and be defensive, things sort out rapidly. I think 99.9% of people are fantastic human beings. Most of us just want to feel respected and feel as if we are being treated fairly.
- LEARN FROM THIS. Every event like this is an exciting opportunity to polish your skills as a businessperson. Don’t let a good problem go to waste without learning from it!
— Jon M. Fife, President