7 Ways to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work

Ferrone & Associates CPAsBlog

A few tips to help you navigate relationships with clients and coworkers alike:

1. Have a Direct Approach

When having a conversation with a client, be direct and clear from the start. If possible, layout a plan of next steps instead of dancing around the subject or making excuses. People will appreciate an honest and direct approach about what happened and how it can be fixed. Let them ask questions, hear their complaints, and respond calmly and clearly.

2. Be Kind

This is more of a constant state of mind that will pay off when hard news comes. If you’re kind, encouraging, and carry yourself with kindness, your clients will be happier to talk to you. Even in the course of a difficult conversation, kindness will go a long way. People will be more patient and willing to work with you through a tough situation.

3. Share Good News, Too

Even a small piece of good news can go a long way with your clients. If you only reach out directly when you need something or when you have bad news, conversations can become a chore for your client, so share encouraging news too. It will also let your clients know that you are thinking of them and want to serve them well.

4. Phone Calls Are Key

Do not deliver bad news via email. Get on the phone and call them, and prepare a voicemail in advance to briefly explain the issue at hand in case you can’t get in touch. Follow up with an email as well, encourage them to listen to what you said and get back on the phone.

5. Initiate the Conversation

You never want to find yourself on the receiving end of a “what’s the status” or “where are we at” message. Proactivity in delivering bad news and having that conversation as soon as possible is important. You don’t want to put your client off. Delivering the news quickly will let your clients know you care about the issue at hand and want to get it solved.

6. Work Through the Solutions Together

In the client services business, your job is to help customers navigate a problem and find a solution. Do not leave them alone to solve the issue. As mentioned in the first point, offer up solutions, but listen to feedback and ideas from your client, too. You never know when someone might have a great idea that leads to a resolution.

7. Be Teachable

You may be on the receiving end of a hard conversation one day. A client may be offering up a complaint or pointing out a mistake made. In these conversations, it can be easy to get defensive and proud, even if you keep these feelings to yourself. I recommend trying to be teachable in these moments. In other words, hear your client out. Ask questions about how you can improve, and own up to mistakes you make. You are never too old or experienced to learn something new, and learning can help you improve your relationships with all your clients.

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