I’m not happy.
Those 3 words caught me off guard, like a punch from someone I didn’t know was my opponent.
A long-time client, let’s call him Eric, told me he was dissatisfied with the results he was getting.
That’s when I put these 5 leadership skills and conflict resolution steps into play. I was able to turn a direct hit into an opportunity to prove my value as a leadership advisor.
Step #1) Diffuse the Situation
No, that’s not a grammatical error. The word defuse means to remove a fuse from an explosive. If you defuse upset clients by taking away their “fuse” – their ability to express anger – no one wins. The client now has bottled up frustration towards you. Avoid these common defusing phrases: let me explain, here’s what I think is happening, please try to calm down, let’s talk after you’ve cooled down.
Instead, let clients diffuse their emotions – which means to release and disperse. Allow them to be angry and just listen. It’s usually a quick explosion with minimal damage, like a bottle rocket.
When Eric called and said “I’m not happy,” my response was swift and genuine: “Tell me what’s going on.” And tell he did: We’re not hitting our numbers! The goal was 15 new accounts! This isn’t working!
Once Eric had diffused his anger, I moved onto the next leadership skill.
Step #2) Clear the Fog, Find the Facts
Why I am such a fan of the diffusion method? It’s easier to uncover the facts of the situation once emotions have dissipated. It’s like a fog lifting. Both you and your client can see the situation clearly and move towards a solution.
With Eric, I first validated his anger – then went for a fact.
“I know you’re upset about not acquiring those 15 new accounts…how many accounts did you open?”
“We opened 13.”
Step #3) Frame the Facts
I asked Eric to repeat that: 13 new accounts. This was to reframe the conversation in more positive terms. Then I waited.
He realized that no, he hadn’t hit the original goal – but they had 13 new accounts, a 30 percent increase from 2016. And that was a good thing.
Even if he had only added 6 accounts, I would have used this tactic to frame – and guide – a productive, positive conversation.
#4) Goals as Stepping Stones
“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” – Earl Nightingale
When I work with executive leaders and CEOs on setting goals, I share this quote. Success is not only found in the achieved goal – it’s in the improved process itself. A well-set goal creates tension. It pushes you and your team to do the best work every day.
I reminded Eric that we had intentionally set a challenging goal of 15 new accounts. We knew at the outset it may not be achievable.
#5) Issue Clearing
Even though he seemed more upbeat and positive, I asked Eric if there was anything else on his mind. This is called issue clearing, and it’s a personal and leadership skill worth mastering.
“Well, I see now that 13 accounts is a success – but my team thinks less of me for missing the goal.”
Failure is one thing. An audience watching you fail is another. For corporate leaders like Eric, it’s not just a personal quest to hit a goal…the team is watching. Eric had been pushing his team to sign those new accounts. How could he explain that – under his leadership – they had failed?
I suggested that Eric walk his team through the same conversation we just had.
1) Diffuse any frustration or negative emotions about missing the goal.
2) Review the facts about what WAS achieved: 13 new accounts opened
3) Re-frame the missed goal as an actual success
4) Goals help us do our best work together, but we may not always hit them
5) Clear any remaining issues
By using these 5 steps, you can build trust and loyalty with your client even in a tough situation where your value is questioned.
CEO, Certified EM Advisor
Rom LaPointe works with organizations seeking authentic guidance from a trusted source, true leadership team engagement, and progress toward common goals.