Interdependent relationships, where you can’t just walk away when the going gets tough, can be both satisfying and frustrating. Think marriage, business partnerships, long-term supply agreements, and of course, the franchise relationship. Regular constructive conversations are essential to keep things on track. Over the past week, I and my team have conducted several workshops for franchisor teams, helping them to understand the pressures franchisees face, and how to manage conversations when people are unhappy or stressed. Here are some tips we can all use when we “need to talk” to someone we work or live with.
Talk don’t write
Avoid addressing emotional issues by email, text or social media. Much of the meaning behind what we communicate comes through our tone of voice. People can be easily, and inadvertently, offended when they read something with an emotional load. But in a discussion, differences can be acknowledged and addressed — we can explain ourselves, adjust our position or apologize.
Do a Check-In
Be composed and clear on your intentions prior to the meeting.
- Sit or stand up straight, stretch your shoulders back, and take a few deep breaths. Acknowledge and accept your feelings, as you will then be less likely to lose control. And remind yourself that the best solutions come from staying calm.
- Put aside what you were previously doing, put away your smart device, and get curious about what’s going on for the other person. Have confidence that, with patience and a clear mind, you will arrive at a satisfactory outcome.
- Most importantly, get your intentions right. Helpful intentions include wanting to understand something, strengthen a relationship, and achieve a good outcome. Unhelpful intentions are trying to prove you are smarter than the other person, teach them a lesson, or vent your feelings so you feel better. (People don’t enjoy being shown they are stupid, treated like a naughty child, or berated!)
Gather relevant facts and feelings
Conflicts often arise because people have access to different data, or their beliefs have been shaped by inaccurate information.
- Start the conversation by gathering and sharing relevant facts, beliefs and feelings. Listen carefully to the other person and write down relevant information so you can refer to this.
- Paraphrase what they have said, as this enables you to check you really do get their perspective, as well as showing you are genuinely interested.
- Keep an open mind and don’t get defensive. For instance, avoid “Yes butting”. Try to understand why the issue is important to them by asking specific, open-ended questions such as, “Can you tell me more about…”
- Name bad behavior calmly, and state what you need from them. For instance, if the other person is being rude or negative, you might say “Judy, those types of comments aren’t helpful. Let’s stay calm and work together on this.” Maintain a confident, positive and helpful tone of voice.
Focus on the future
You should now have a shared understanding of the situation. So far so good. Before moving into solution mode, a warning. Don’t feel like you have to solve the problem yourself. It is likely the other person already has a realistic and simple suggestion.
- Start with a solution-focused question such as “What can I do to help?” or “What would a good solution look like?”
- If you think you have a good solution, you’ll get more buy-in if you first ask if you can offer a suggestion. (Giving uninvited advice can be interpreted as rude).
- Keep the conversation future-focused as it’s easy to get bogged down in raking over past problems. Assuming you have already acknowledged any past difficulties, move things on by asking, “What can we do to get to a better place?”
Finish on a positive
Thank the other person for their patience and co-operation. This will close the conversation on a positive note and help to keep the relationship in good shape for the next time you talk.