No one wants to find themselves in an escalation. In the bestselling book, Crucial Conversations, the authors teach us that many times we step into an emotionally-charged situation full of positive intent. Unfortunately, others involved in the same situation aren’t feeling as positive. The bad news is, this is a typical part of doing business.
The good news however, is that mastering difficult conversations can lead to some of the most positive and defining moments of your career. All you need is a little training and insight on how to deal with problems and people, especially when the stakes are high and emotions are charged.
Let’s go through the five steps you can take to not only handle the situation but the people involved in it as well.
- Don’t Bite the Hook
When emotions start flying it’s easy to get hooked and fire back. DON’T DO IT. Instead, focus on the end goal. To solve the problem and get the customer or project back on track, keep reminding those involved that you’re there to help. Everyone has at least one thing in common here: they all want the situation figured out, so use that commonality to ease tensions.
- Acknowledge and Empathize
Most people in an emotionally-charged situation want to be heard and understood. And not just about the problem at hand, but also – and sometimes more so – how they feel about it.
In these situations, there are two things you can do to help those involved feel heard and understood.
- Acknowledge by Using Mirroring
Mirroring is a simple technique where you repeat back what you heard said. For example, if the customer says, “I’m frustrated that the project is behind.” You simply say, “I hear that you’re frustrated that the project is behind. Can you tell me more?” This is an easy way to let the customer know you hear them.
Empathy is about understanding another person’s feelings, not just what happened. It’s as simple as saying, “I’m sorry for your frustration,” or “I get how frustrated and angry you must feel.” When we put ourselves in the emotional shoes of another person, most often they feel understood, and it’s then that the tension starts to subside.
- Next, Clarify
Once everyone involved is in a calmer place make sure you clarify what the exact problem is. This is where it’s important to focus on the facts, not on the emotions.
A simple way to do this is to restate what you heard the problem to be – like mirroring, but focus on the facts of the problem and NOT the emotions involved. You can use simple phrases such as, “What I heard you say was…is this correct?” Or you can ask a forward-thinking question that leads the team to a group resolution. You might say, “What would a good solution be for this situation?” Or “How can we collaborate to get to a fast and effective solution?”
- Propose a Solution
Many times, those involved are looking to YOU to provide the solution. If you can clearly see a path to solve the problem, as quickly as you feel the group is ready, outline how you would solve the problem in very brief yet specific dialog. Make sure you touch on their emotions as they relate to the facts of the problem, so those involved feel heard and understood. This will allow you to validate your solution while at the same time letting let them know you understand.
If you don’t see a clear solution, that’s ok! Ask to work together to strategize a process forward. Ask questions like, “What would you like to have happen here?” or “What do you see as the best path forward?” Or even, “Has this happened before? Was there a solution that worked then that we might try now?”
- Finally, Get Agreement
Once you have a solution, you must get agreement on the path forward and confirm any related deadlines. Here are 3 easy steps to getting there:
- Repeat the problem back.
- Restate the solution and timeline by the problem needs to be resolved.
- Get a verbal agreement from everyone immediately involved.
Remember, stay calm, acknowledge the range of emotions at play, clarify what’s going on while sticking to the facts, propose a solution or a brainstorm meeting, and close with verbal agreement once you find a path forward. The important thing is to remember how you handle yourself and your emotions can make or break the situation, your reputation and you.