As owner of a business, you often have to have difficult conversations with people. Sometimes it’s a team member whose work has fallen short lately. Sometimes it’s a client who has written in to express their dissatisfaction with how a project is going. Sometimes it’s a customer who bought a product that has broken or failed them unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s an employee who has violated your trust and put your business at financial risk.
These conversations can turn your stomach. Ideally, you’d never have to have them or avoid them completely, and most of your thoughts leading up to the moment involve scenarios of what could go wrong rather than what could go right.
But this is what I’ve learned from having these conversations and being in these different positions (more than once in the past): you control the conversation.
That doesn’t mean you speak the whole time or dominate the room. Rather, you can bring energy and presence that can shift the situation from dreaded to enlightening. Here’s how to start:
1. Arrive with your learning spirit. Something may have gone wrong. That doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself or someone else up for the mistake. Failures are only failures if you learn nothing from them and they don’t move you forward.
2. Listen. Whether it’s a client or customer that needs to vent, or a team member that needs to share what happened, take the time to ask questions and really listen to the response. We all want to be seen and heard, and taking this time to gather information can break down false beliefs you may have constructed leading up to the meeting or call.
3. Admit where you’re wrong. Even when I had an employee indirectly steal money from me, I was still able to admit where I wasn’t clear or boundaried enough. I saw what I needed to change going forward to prevent this situation from happening again. If you can own your part of the situation, you can let it go.
4. Propose ways forward. I never arrive in a meeting with a preconceived notion of how to solve a potential problem. Rather through listening, I discover different paths forward and share those possibilities, so together we can decide on how best to take the next steps. Sometimes, that means ending a relationship but most often it means a deepening of the relationship and new standards and expectations being set so we can be successful together.
5. Continue to check in. With yourself most importantly as you need to ask yourself how changes are working for you and if further modifications may be needed. But you also should be checking in regularly with your team or following up with your client or customer. This helps ensure lessons you’ve learned really take hold and brings the situation to a full and satisfying resolution or continues to strengthen the relationship.
This is the start of the shift.