Customer Experience News & Trends

The power of positive confrontation

What do you do when a valued customer makes an unreasonable demand? Or your sales manager gives you an unfair evaluation? Or a colleague takes advantage of a situation? 

You can’t control the other person’s reaction, so consider how you’ll handle a range of responses.

Polite and powerful

Just being polite may not be enough to handle a difficult situation.  You may come off as wimpy. Being powerful may not work either. You need both politeness and power for positive confrontation. Leave out “polite” and you’ll seem aggressive, which only makes things worse. Omit powerful and you’ll come across as timid.

Avoiding confrontation

Some salespeople avoid confrontation. They seethe quietly, which drains their energy and productivity. Others vent their frustrations to a third party who has no power to fix the situation. A few suppress their feelings until they blow their top, which makes things worse.

Use WAC’em

To prepare for a positive confrontation, gather your thoughts and a simple WAC’em. Here’s how it works:

  • What’s bothering you? As you plan what you need to say, be as specific as you can and avoid generalizations. Focus on the behavior. Explain why the behavior bothers you.
  • What do you want to ask the other person to do or change? Be ready to request exactly what you would like the other person to do. Be specific and ask for something achievable? Decide whether it’s appropriate to “state a want” or “take a position.” A want articulates a desired outcome. A positon carries a consequence. You would probably want to state a want instead of taking a position with a valuable customer.
  • Check in with the other person. This step invites the other person to react to what you’ve said and to share their thoughts or opinions. After you make your request, it’s a good idea to ask if your solution is acceptable.

Your decision

You need to decide when it’s worth confronting someone and when it’s not. Ask if the problem affects you? Then choose the right time and place for your WAC’em conversation.

Be specific

Be specific. What is it about the person’s behavior that you’re having difficulty with? Writing your thoughts slows you down and helps you focus on the person’s bothersome behavior.

“I” statements

When you describe behavior that bothers you, phrase your description with “I” instead of “you,” so you don’t put people on the defensive. Avoid aggressive gestures, such as finger-pointing and arm-crossing.

Handling reactions

Know exactly what you’re going to say when you WAC people, and be aware that you can’t control their reaction. Prepare for a range of responses, including:

  • The person agrees. Salespeople often feel surprised when this happens. They may agonize over the WAC’em conversations for weeks, before finally getting up the courage to talk – only to hear the person agree to what you’ve asked for and even apologize. Often this happens because the person had no idea his or her behavior was causing a problem for you.
  • WAC’em leads to a discussion. Maybe the person has a different opinion about what should happen or has information you don’t have. If you find yourself in a discussion, listen carefully and ask questions to gain understanding. Arriving at a solution together is a great outcome.
  • The other person gets defensive. Resist the impulse to turn up the heat with an aggressive response. Instead, ask for clarification. Handle yourself with grace, poise and good humor in a world when those things often seem rare.
  • The other person gets aggressive. Don’t take their behavior personally. Handle the problem with a calm, rational approach. Even extremely difficult people respond positively to that type of behavior. Breathe deeply and never counterattack. Sometimes letting the person vent defuses the tension. You may suggest a postponement to get feelings under control.

When dealing with a customer

It’s a lot different dealing with a customer than with your boss or a colleague. Handling the situation the wrong way may cost you an important customer. Sometimes there is no choice. You must say “no” to a customer demand.

Here are 2 tips that may take the sting out of “no:”

  1. Show the customer that his or her needs are important to you. If possible, offer an alternative course of action.
  2. Try to give the customer a reason or an explanation you’re comfortable with. The customer may or may not accept it, but in the end the reason should be the one you feel is right.

Adapted from: The Power of Positive Confrontation, by Barbara Pachter, coach and speaker on business etiquette.

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