Business relationships don’t always go smoothly. But building and maintaining good relationships with customers, employees, suppliers and even competitors is vital to becoming a successful small-business owner.
To keep good relationships, you need to learn how to react when difficult situations arise. This requires patience and the application of excellent communication skills.
Training in better communication is a must, but it won’t automatically make you a successful communicator or ensure that you can defuse a tense situation. There are some basic concepts you need to understand to improve your chances of success.
When faced with a difficult situation with another person, you should be aware of exactly what you want to accomplish to solve the problem. Are you trying to change his mind about something? Get him to take specific action? Get him to agree to a particular plan of action? Or are you just trying to calm him down?
Monitor the response
As you try to deal with the situation, you must pay close attention to any changes in the other person’s behavior. Then use this feedback to change your approach if needed. Keep your goal in sight, and don’t be distracted by your own emotions.
Handling difficult situations requires this flexibility and commitment to results because everyone has their own personality and way of relating to others. It is important to learn to recognize the other person’s intent and needs if you are going to “keep the peace” while working out a disagreement.
Is the person you are dealing with focusing on getting things done? Or is getting it right more important to him? Does he want to be appreciated and lavished with attention and praise? Does he seem to be most concerned about getting along with other people?
Be careful not to just put someone into a category and deal with that person the same way every time. You must pay attention and observe him carefully to realize what his needs are at the time.
Search for common ground. It may not necessarily relate to the problem at hand; it could be anything. The idea is to show that the two of you are not so different after all. You are not the enemy, and the two of you can work together to resolve your differences.
As you try to resolve the situation, it is important to realize that the words you use are only a small part of getting your message across and achieving your goals. More than 90 percent of how someone responds to you is related to body language and sound, not your actual words. Remember to observe the other person’s body language, too.
Pay attention to the volume of your voice and the speed of your speech.
It may help to mirror the volume and speed of the person with whom you are speaking. Slow down if he is talking slowly, or speak more quietly if he is talking softly. If he is talking loudly, you may increase the volume of your voice somewhat, but don’t allow yourself to get into a shouting match.
Point of view
Another important aspect of dealing with difficult situations is to show that, although you may not agree with the other person, you do understand his point of view.
Just as it is important to respond to feedback, you should give feedback to show that you heard what he said.
Repeat exactly what he said to you (not what you think he meant), and ask if you are correct about what he actually said.
Then ask questions to clarify the meaning. Be sure to explain to the other person why you are asking questions so he won’t become frustrated with you.
For example, after being sure you know what he said, you could say something like, “I want to ask you some questions to be sure I understand what you mean.”
Then, really listen.
Connie Edwards is a business consultant with the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at 651-3200.