As a business owner you are going to have many difficult conversations over the course of your career. Here's why you have to have them, and how to get comfortable doing it.
Difficult conversations ugh. Who likes them? Most people do everything in their power to avoid confrontation and difficult situations. But as a business owner, the fact is, you are more than likely going to be the one to have most, if not all, of those difficult conversations.
Get used to having difficult conversations. Everyday
Here is a sample of the kinds of difficult conversations you can may encounter:
- money: there are all kinds of conversations and negotiations around money in business. And if you're the business owner, you best become comfortable talking about money. Whether that's salaries, raises, rent, property purchase, supplier pricing, client budgetary restrictions, bonuses, career development....there are so many ways in which money permeates everyday business.
Money (sales) is what establishes you as being in business, so it makes sense that a big part of running a business means thinking, talking, negotiating and wishing for (more) money.
My advice: the best advice I received about negotiating in business is the "pause". This was taught to me by Colleen Francis of Engage Selling. I have a tendency to rush in with all my words and blurt things out. The pause taught me to stay calm in these kinds of conversations, be professional, stand your ground, but never get emotional. Emotions can really ruin negotiations and difficult conversations, and trust me, I know how hard it is to remain objective. But doing so generally sees a more positive outcome without ruining relationships. I have learned I can have conversations about money, and still be amicable.
I have also learned that we can disagree and remain professional. That's a key business lesson to remember.
Try not be get emotional; it can derail the conversation
- the "f" word: firing someone is not nearly as gratifying or pleasurable as it seems on tv. In fact, most business owners dread it. Even if it is 100 % the right decision for the business, it can be upsetting to fire someone. As a business owner you understand there is a human being at stake and altering the course of someone's life is not easy.
My advice: the compassionate bandaid. This means you show compassion, but you make the interaction brief and concise, and then allow the person to leave with dignity, always thanking them for their time at your company. The meeting should be short and succinct, sticking to the main fact in a direct and clear manner. Practice what you are going to say so you don't ramble unnecessarily. No one deserves to listen to you ramble, get to the point. Then let them leave and process this information on their own.
I always offer two things in that brief disengagement meeting:
1) my share of the blame where it didn't work out (it's rarely ALL their fault. You hired them after all...), and
2) the opportunity for them to contact me later if, after processing it, they have additional questions
For most employees I additionally offer to help them find employment or recommend them for other opportunities.
- unhappy client: this one is tough. As a service company, we do everything possible to make clients happy, but sometimes it's just not enough. Whether that's because we legitimately messed up, in which case I think the way a company handles the issue speaks to their ethics & customer service, or whether it's a personality clash or unclear expectations with a client. There are many ways a client can find themselves unhappy.
Have these conversations in person
We are lucky at Fenix to have clients that truly value us as vendors. They understand we are working hard for them, and that if something goes wrong, we will jump to fix it. Others are not so forgiving. Some clients think any error is a grave and unforgivable error, and those clients are the hardest to win over, even with a nice gesture. You will have difficult conversations with all of them, but with the "difficult" clients, it will be even more intense.
It is the client's right to expect you to speak to them about the issue. At the very least, that is what is owed them. When doing so, I recommend an in-person conversation, that way you can read body language and they can read yours. If they sense you are truly genuine, most will be forgiving. This kind of dynamic is difficult to achieve in an email or phone call. As uncomfortable as it may be, you're going to have to do it in person.
I can say that having difficult conversations over the past 16 years of business ownership has prepared me better for them. But there is always that one (or two) each year that I dread, and stay up all night thinking about in anticipation. Ultimately I do my best to stay calm, practice the pause, and (try) to never get emotional. Always operate with compassion, but there is little place for emotion in any of the situations noted above, and getting emotional often derails the discussion.
Or, you can hire someone to have these conversations for you:)