In life and annuity sales and in client service, confrontation can be a sticking point. Avoiding confrontation is a natural human tendency, but how we handle a confrontation can become a defining moment for a relationship or prevent a small problem from evolving into a disaster.
Here’s a personal example: One of my daughters helps to teach a dance class. She got invited to a concert, and had a month to let the primary instructor know that she couldn’t be there one night to help. My daughter went to three weeks of classes, and never said a word. The week of the concert, she went to a class, didn’t say anything, went home, and sent a text that she couldn’t attend. By then, it was too late to find a replacement, and we forced her to skip the concert to teach her class for the sake of her relationship with the dance school and the obvious lessons learned.
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You probably aren’t shirking your duties as a dance instructor, but our habits as adults are often not much different from the choices children make. Too often we see a difficult conversation on the horizon and we spend weeks or months outright avoiding it and some quality self-talk as to why it’s okay to do that. We make it okay in our minds. We don’t want to anger or upset a colleague or client, and we are probably afraid of what might happen if we do.
If your goal is to retain clients and to grow your business, you should not run from confrontation. If a hard conversation has to happen, do not put it off. Address it early and with professionalism so that it does not fester. A confrontation is actually an important opportunity to not only solve a problem but also to strengthen a relationship. How you handle what could be a challenging situation can actually elevate the client experience.
Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes what the client wants is not what the client needs. Sometimes a miscommunication can steer a project off track. Be up front and have a dialog as soon as you identify the problem.
As for how to handle the actual conversation surrounding the confrontation, follow these ten rules, adapted from a list originally created by The John Maxwell Company:
Have the conversation in private.
Address the issue as soon as possible rather than looking for a “better time.”
Be concise and stick to the main point of the issue.
Avoid repeating yourself.
Build a constructive dialog by focusing only on what actions can be changed.
Don’t be sarcastic (or avoid texts and emails where you might sound sarcastic).
Avoid absolutes like “always” and “never.”
Ask questions and offer suggestions.
Do not apologize for having to address the problem.
Balance the conversation by highlighting the other person’s positive contributions.
If you embrace these rules, how you handle confrontation will become a part of your natural dialog process, which means that you will not shy away from a hard conversation. The real value of this approach is that it establishes a tone for the experience you deliver as an expert and as a partner. This tone will begin in the sales process and then continue throughout the engagement with a client, which can be incredible powerful.
When someone will say anything to get the sale, the first whiff of confrontation is often when the advisor has to backtrack on a few promises and awkwardly reset client expectations. If you are willing to challenge a prospect during the sales process—professionally, of course—the tone is completely different. Everyone is on the same page from the very first meeting, and expectations are precisely aligned. That leads to a much healthier and more productive relationship in the long term.
In the short term, embracing the challenge of confrontation might seem difficult, but the rewards are significant. Do the hard work now so that the problems you face later are easier to manage.
--- Read What If People Have the Wrong Idea About You? on ThinkAdvisor.