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Effective Communication With Customers And Employees

Business owners often dread having to have difficult conversations with staff or customers. Liz Cassidy of Third Sigma International provides a step by step analysis on achieving effective communication.

Often in executive coaching, clients ask for assistance with having tricky conversations because they are dreading an upcoming interview. I see difficult conversations as a cause for celebration, especially if the conversation is initiated by the other party.

Often we lose staff and customers and have no idea why they left; what caused them to become so disenchanted with us, our product or service that they just walked away without caring enough to let us know? Staying engaged with someone who still cares about us or what we do is the best opportunity to build a long-term business relationship. By beginning a difficult conversation, you have made the choice to resolve the situation as opposed to allowing it to escalate.

There are times when we inadvertently cause a difficult situation; a throwaway comment, less than rigorous approach to a shipment, an unthinking outburst of frustration, or an unreturned phonecall. These can be easily misinterpreted as signs of us not caring enough to keep the relationship alive. When the opportunity arises to have a difficult conversation it is useful to review recent events, and non-events, to see if we have inadvertently caused an upset. What has really happened (cold facts)? What is the other person’s perspective of the facts? In their shoes, can you relate to their issue?

Once we have thought about this, it’s time to plan. The issue might not be clear; it’s useful to gather any information which provides clarity before the conversation takes place. It’s vital to know what we want as an outcome. This way, we set up a blueprint for the result and become architect of the solution.

If it is a staff member, do we want to keep them, build their confidence, have them change their behaviours/attitudes, or really do we want to let the relationship end? With a customer, do we want to be adding more products/services, creating a deeper relationship, or have them adjust their behaviours to our staff? Do we really want to keep them? What impression do we want them to have of us and our business after the conversation is over? What do we want them saying about us in the market?

To have more control over our outcomes, it is useful to set our intention in advance. This is especially so when planning a difficult conversation. Once we know what we want to achieve and have organised to conduct the conversation without interruptions, if possible, face to face in an appropriately respectful environment, then we can plan the process using these steps for handling tough situations:

Identify the situation: First, observe what is actually happening. The trick is to articulate this observation without any judgment or personal evaluation; simply state what is going on that is causing the situation. If you find yourself making a judgement (right/wrong, criticism/blame), pause. Make another attempt at seeing the situation without judgement. Judgement stops the conversation in its tracks.

Open meaningful discussion: Deal with the subject objectively, openly and honestly. If you have difficulty with this, bring in an uninvolved mediator. Begin by making a short, clear statement of facts not opinions, stating what you want to discuss. This sets the scene for the other party and frames your discussion.
Acknowledge the other person: Thank them for making time to have a conversation with you.

Tell them your desired outcomes: If you want to get a resolution, tell them. They may be relieved to hear you say it.

State your case: Using neutral, unemotional and objective language, explain the real effects this conflict is having on you. Be assertive (not aggressive), accurate and mean what you say. First empathise with their situation, then state honestly how you feel. Are you concerned, worried, annoyed?