Having Difficult Conversations With Clients

Client Relationships tax

So we all have been there – stuck in a spot with a client that is keeping you from what you want or need. How did you get in this spot? Sometimes it’s because of something that was said or not said. Other times, you have no clue … but when you have that stuck feeling, it is typically because you haven’t had a crucial conversation.

In the bestselling book, Crucial Conversations, this is defined as a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. It’s not about communication as an end but rather as a means. If you can have a crucial conversation, you can enhance your ability to communicate with individuals so you can achieve the results you want.

If you have a client that you need to have a difficult conversation with, the following tips from the book should help you.

Start with Heart. Change starts with a change in the heart. That means you have to admit that you are the person you should be trying to improve. Focus on what you want for yourself, for others and for the relationship. Behave as if you really do want those things. Think of what you want to achieve and what you want to avoid, and ask yourself, “I wonder how I can achieve (blank) and avoid (blank)?”

Learn to Look. Are there signs that a conversation is turning crucial? The sooner you catch problems, the sooner you can return to healthy dialogue and lessen the damage. When people feel unsafe, they typically move to silence or violence. They may not become physically violent, but rather attack others’ ideas and feelings. Develop the skill to recognize this behavior and do what it takes to make it safe again for dialogue.

Make it Safe. You can’t be too candid. Candor doesn’t make a conversation work or not work – safety does. Open dialogue will be destroyed when people either attack or hide. Restoring safety requires an environment of respect and purpose to the conversation. Mutual respect is when two people see one another as being trustworthy. Mutual purpose is when both parties care about one another.

Master My Stories. When you’re mad, you immediately see and hear something and then tell yourself a story. The story creates feelings. You can either act on those feelings or have them act on you. Manage your emotions by separating the facts from the stories. Facts are things we can see and hear where stories are judgments and conclusions that can cause us to move to silence or violence.

STATE Your Path. Express your views in a way that makes it safe for others to hear them (and even disagree). Start with the facts as you know them. Then share your path the way you experienced it – from observations to actions. If you can be tentative in encouraging others’ points of view, you can be both totally candid and respectful.

Ask for Others’ Paths. You’ve shared your facts and told your story, now ask for their side to try and understand their views. Mirror them by describing how they look, act or sound. Then paraphrase back what was said to you in your words, not theirs. And if the conversation is stuck, try to guess what they might be thinking and share it to solicit a response. This is about understanding where they are coming from, not necessarily believing them.

Move to Action. The key is to move to action and results rather than violated expectations and déjà vu dialogues. Decide how you will be making the decision. It is a command that’s already been decided? A consult where everyone gives input and a subset decides? A vote where the majority rules? Or consensus where everyone must agree? Be sure to document who will do what by when and what follow up action will be taken. Then follow up.

People who master crucial conversation are singled out by their peers as respected and influential employees. The dialogue skills they use are identifiable, learnable and repeatable, and they can have an enormous impact on results.

When it comes to having a crucial conversation with a difficult client, you can have high-stakes discussions and handle them well if you focus on having healthy dialogue.

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