It’s rewarding to share good news and everyone wants to hear good news. Those conversations are easy. The best part of my job is when I get to tell a client their issues are fixed! Everything is great! Unfortunately, all conversations at work are not good news. Sometimes I have to share TERRIBLE news and DIFFICULT situations in TOUGH conversations. If you manage clients or work in leadership, you might have more tough conversations than easy ones. Before jumping into the conversation, think through the dialogue and prepare yourself to ensure the most positive outcome possible.
Write a script or key points to mention during the conversation
For some conversations I write out my entire spiel. I write every word I plan to say like a speech. For some situations I only write a few bullet points that I want to make sure I cover during the call. I focus on the benefits –Even though some things are changing, what benefits are still available for the client? I explain the changes and why they are occurring. When I was a teacher we always focused on explaining why the students were learning the new math concept or reading certain literature. Statistics show that when people the know the reason for something they are more able to understand and retain the information.
Draft a list of questions the customer might have
If you were the customer, what questions would you have about the situation? What information would be the most important to you? Think through what questions the person might have and determine the answers you would like to provide. Figure out ways to steer back to the key bullet points you wanted to address. Reviewing the questions the client might ask allows you to see the situation from other viewpoints. It allows you to be more empathetic to your client’s potential concerns and prepares you to appropriately walk them through the difficult information.
Role play with a coworker or friend
It may sound old school or silly, but role playing a scenario is probably one of the most useful tools you have to prepare for a tough situation. Ask a friend or a colleague to run through the conversation with you. Have them act as a person who is very unhappy with the situation and also as a person who is not very bothered with the situation. Have them ask you questions the natural questions that arise as you talk. Just like actors rehearse for a play to get comfortable with lines, the more you say or think through how you would explain the difficult information, the easier it will be to talk with the actual client after the role play.
Schedule time to have the conversation
Set a time to have the conversation with your client. Provide your client with a general idea of what is happening and schedule time to review the details. Send a meeting invite that states, “Company Updates” Changes to blah” In some cases I would suggest sending a precursor email to let them a brief overview of the changes.
During the conversation, remember to listen as much as you talk. When you are relaying difficult information, people tend to get emotional and they typically have questions. Don’t take their reactions personally. Provide them with time to ask questions, and schedule a follow up conversation if necessary.
Next time you have a tough conversation, take a minute to think through the dialogue. It’s not going to be easy, but with a little preparation you can steer the conversation in smooth and productive direction.