Situation: A company’s client is furious at the service they received from the company, It turns out upon investigation that the source of the client’s difficulty arose from their own actions, not from anything done by the company or its employees. How do you tell a client that their assumptions are wrong?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ask open-ended questions in an attempt to “clarify your understanding” of what happened. You want the client to answer these questions so that they explain the situation to themselves. Always allow them to save face in this process. Some people are better at this technique than others.
Try to understand the client’s experience of the problem as opposed to focusing on the problem itself. This may reveal more deep-seated challenges facing the client that are just being expressed through the current situation.
Email communications often complicate these conversations. Call or visit to let the client know that you are responding personally to their concern. The best communication is person-to-person through conversation. Let them vent. Peel back the onion through questioning to reveal the core problem.
Be honest. Not negative but simply honest. Listen to gain understanding and repeat the facts, as stated by the client, to assure that you properly understand their perspective. If you need to present your own perspective, and it differs from the client’s, do this in a neutral, unemotional tone.
Sometimes you will find a win-win in these discussions, and sometimes you won’t.
Situation: The CEO of a company has a Director of Operations who aspires to more professional responsibility, but who is also hesitant to take on more work. This conflict in the mind of the Director poses a challenge for the CEO. How should the CEO work with this individual?
Advice from the CEOs:
Key managers in certain roles, for example operations and finance, are naturally more conservative in their outlook. Often this is desirable for the role and is characterized as protector behavior in contrast with the ambitious entrepreneur’s builder behavior. These complimentary behaviors are essential to a successful enterprise – the builder to push the envelope and the protector to assure that the company’s resources aren’t stretched too thin.
Take the time to determine the source of hesitation by asking questions. Is it because the individual is meticulous and precise, or is there something else behind the hesitation? If the former, then a plan of action will enable the person to assess whether the next level of responsibility is in line with his or her expectations. If there is something else, work with the individual to define what this is and whether it is a barrier to additional responsibility or a temporary situation that can be alleviated.
Because this individual aspires to additional responsibility, be precise in explaining the demands of the next level position and the performance that you expect at this level. Develop a plan and objectives that will demonstrate whether the individual is ready to take on additional responsibility or not. For the meticulous, precise individual the plan will serve as confirmation of what is expected and will help him or her determine whether they are ready for more responsibility.