As much as we would like for every relationship and project to be all sunshine and rainbows, there are always issues and conflicts that arise. It’s just a part of being human. Even though you can’t avoid conflict altogether, how you respond when it does occur makes a world of difference. Just like a bone that breaks, if you manage it correctly, it will be even stronger when it’s healed. There are three steps that will help make your interaction a success.
Acknowledging that you are indeed listening is the first step. If you aren’t listening, you will never be able to understand the problem and find a solution. Pay attention to their emotions while looking for the core problem that is causing them. Once you find it, repeat the issue back to them while acknowledging the emotion. This will ensure that you understand the issue so that you can work to solve it.
“I can see you’re frustrated that the latest feature doesn’t have x. Is that correct?”
Not only do you want your customer to know that you understand their issue, you want them to know you are on their side. Now is the time to take the emotions you may have seen displayed while the customer was explaining the situation and try to relate. Sometimes you have to look beyond what is actually said and really put yourself in their situation. Perhaps they are getting additional pressure from their manager or a deadline is approaching. Whatever the case, let them know you not only understand the issue but also accept that it is causing them stress, and rightfully so.
“I can understand why that would be frustrating. I’d be here looking to get answers too.”
Now that you understand the issue and can relate to their position, you can assure them. You’ve said that you understand and are on their side and now you prove it. Put together a plan and next steps to show your efforts, even if you don’t have the specifics yet. Your customer wants to know that actions are being done to alleviate the problem. Making plans and putting them into motion indicates that solving the problem is important to you. Don’t over promise. I know you want to fix the problem as quickly as possible, but breaking commitments only leads to distrust and more frustration. Be realistic about what can be done and when and then communicate that to your customer. Keep them informed of your progress as well if the fix will take a while.
“I will do everything I can to get this resolved for you as soon as possible. I’ll sit down with my team and will update you with our approach by 3PM today.”
The next time you need to resolve a conflict, remember to acknowledge the problem, align yourself with the customer’s “side” and assure them that you will do everything you can to fix the problem. When you make an action plan, under promise, over deliver, and keep communication open!