Most of us have heard the phrase “It’s not so much about what you say, it’s more how you say it that really matters.” I learned the hard way how true that phrase really is. Conversations can be tricky–especially when one or more of the people involved are upset.
When I first started BNI® in the mid-1980s, there were only a handful of chapters while the organization was in its very beginning stages, and it was still small enough that I was able to make personal visits to chapter meetings. One day, I got a call from a chapter president who asked if I would come to their next meeting and offer some insight into how they could improve because they were having some challenges keeping their networking group running smoothly and effectively.
I was happy to help however I could, so I went to their next meeting, sat back, and observed. When the chapter president called me to the front of the room and asked me to offer my feedback, I stood up and began to go over my list of suggestions and changes they should make to improve their effectiveness. Suddenly, one of the chapter members raised her hand and said, “Excuse me but who in the heck do you think you are, sashaying in here and telling us everything you think we’re doing wrong?!–You don’t know anything about us!”
Respond or React
How did I respond? I didn’t respond . . . I reacted. I went with my gut reflex, which was to defend myself, saying that I was the founder of the organization. I tried in vain to argue that my points were valid and that they needed to listen to what I had to say if they wanted to improve. The way I handled it was completely ineffective because, in a heated situation where somebody was obviously very upset and already convinced I was the enemy, I had no strategy for guiding the conversation in a positive, solutions-focused direction.
That day, on my commute back home from the meeting, I spent the first twenty minutes fuming about how rude the woman was to me. I had gotten up early to drive over to their chapter meeting, taking time out of my day to go above and beyond to help them! In the privacy of my own car, with my blood boiling, I drove through traffic flaring my nostrils, vehemently muttering several choice words (which I will not detail here) while I verbally bashed them for being so ungrateful.
Then I started to calm down and think about how I might have handled the situation differently and it was during that same car ride that I came up with BNI’s corporate policy on customer support and handling customer complaints. Here are some of the points from that policy.
- Remember–people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Listen and let them talk. Then . . . listen, listen, listen.
- Ask questions. Then . . . listen!
- Acknowledge the information.
- Understand their complaint and ask how you can help.
- Follow up.
- Thank them.
- Remember–diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way. Be diplomatic!
Some years later, I came across the book, Crucial Conversations, which teaches people how to prepare for high-stakes situations, transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue, create situations where it is safe to talk about almost anything, and to be persuasive not abrasive.
Some of the tactics and strategies in the book were right in line with what I outlined for BNI’s policy on dealing with tense situations. It also has additional tactics that are immensely helpful for ensuring that whatever it is you are trying to say in any given situation is presented in the best possible way (i.e., “how you say it”) to achieve the best possible results for everyone involved.
I think that ALL conversations are crucial on some level because once you say something you can’t take it back and saying the wrong thing may have tremendously negative repercussions. Whether you are conversing with your fellow networkers, your business associates, or with loved ones that are closest to you, it’s always best to know what you want to say and how you want to say it before anything comes out of your mouth.
Take it from someone who learned this the hard way.
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