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  • Writer's pictureKevin Snow

Having The Hard Conversation

Building a strong business relationship is not always about positive interactions. Sometimes you have to have difficult conversations, but if you have that conversation in an appropriate manner, it can still result in a positive outcome.

At one of the regular meetings of a business organization I belong to, one of the members, we will call him Mike, came to me with issues he was having with another member, we will call her Kathy. After I listened to his comments, I asked him a simple question, “Have you talked to Kathy about this?” He said no. From conversations I had with the leaders of the group, I learned that Mike had been having similar conversations with multiple people in the group trying to get them to talk to Kathy for him. Mike missed a great opportunity to build a stronger relationship with someone he networked with regularly.

Many of us grew up hearing from our parents and teachers "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" but that philosophy on communication and relationships only masks the issues that people may have with each other. It is always easier to always talk about the positive things going on in our work and relationships rather than have a frank conversation about issues that are bothering us. Confrontation isn’t fun, but it is these conversations that tend to lead to a stronger relationship and better understanding between the two people involved.

Mike's tactic of trying to illicit supporters instead of going directly to Kathy to talk out the issues didn't have the effect that he was hoping for. Instead of getting help to fix the issue, Mike actually hurt the trust and credibility he had developed with his network. He showed them that if something went wrong, he wouldn't talk to them to fix it, he would instead tell all the people around them. Would you want to refer clients or family to someone where you knew that they may end up telling your other referral partners negative things about you without giving you a chance to rectify the situation?

By talking to everyone other than Kathy, Mike also successfully shifted the personality of the group from that of a successful networking group to the personality of a high school clique or a coffee clutch. The gossip that was running rampant in the group also had a terrible impact on Kathy. The situation deteriorated to the point that she felt she needed to leave the group as her reputation and credibility had been damaged so much that she wouldn't be able to get the quality referrals she was used to getting.

When these situations arise, it is important to approach these conversations with the right attitude no matter what side of the conversation you are participating on. The wrong attitude and approach can lead to hurt feelings and a outcome similar to what Mike and Kathy experience.

Here are four things to keep in mind when you are faced with having a "hard conversation".

1. Talk in Private.

Praise in public, coach in private. If you are members of an organization together, please refrain from approaching them at your meeting and launching into a laundry list of things you want them to do different. Doing that will actually have a negative impact on how the rest of the group sees you along with diminishing the impact on the person you are talking to as they will feel embarrassed and try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Instead. take the person you need to talk to out for a cup of coffee or lunch. Have the conversation on neutral territory so that neither party appears to have “home field advantage”.

2. Always say “Thank You!”

When you start the private conversation with the person, always start by telling them that you appreciate their efforts to help you. More times than not, the individual is really just trying to help you and thinks that they are and was really excited that they could. Let them know that you appreciate them thinking of you before you start trying to adjust the way their activities. If you don’t thank them, you risk them not wanting to help you in the future.

3. Ask

Always ask if they are open to some suggestions or coaching. Having them say yes to this question opens the door for you to help them help you more effectively without having as much push back or defensiveness.

4. Be Open To Suggestions

This is really for the person receiving the suggestion but can apply to the person giving them as well. Getting defensive only puts up walls between the individuals talking and prevents people from actually hearing what the other person is saying. Remember that the person giving the suggestions is talking to you because they value the relationship they have with you and want to make it better and they have identified something that in their mind is hindering that. Conversely, the person receiving the suggestions may have suggestions of their own that they make and we need to be open to them as well.

Having the hard conversation with someone can be stressful to think about but having it and approaching it in a positive way with the right attitude can make the results more beneficial to each person involved rather than just living with the status quo.

Don’t throw away an opportunity to make a good relationship a great relationship.

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