During the fourth installation of Key Notes On Travel, resiliency expert Charmaine Hammond offered strategies for communicating for success in a series titled Dealing with Difficult People and Difficult Conversations. Over the course of two webinars and a follow-up Q&A, Hammond gave advisors invaluable tips and scripts for turning a confrontation into a respectful conversation, deescalating conflict and turning difficult clients into raving fans. Here are our favourite take-aways.
How Are You Communicating?
Hammond points out that only seven per cent of a message is conveyed through words. A whopping 55 per cent is communicated through body language and another 38 per cent through vocal elements like tone and inflection. This leaves a lot of room for miscommunication. Consider the following:
- Take stock of your nonverbals. How quickly do you speak? Are you soft-spoken, animated or level? What degree of inflection do you use?
- How often do you employ humour or sarcasm? Does this resonate with your client/audience?
- How do you “show up” on the phone? Do you sit, stand or pace? If you work from home, where do you take calls?
- Cadence: Do you speak quickly or with greater urgency when you feel nervous or defensive? Do you bumble along trying to “fill” the silence?
Escape a Conversational Loop
Does your client keep repeating the same thing? Is the conversation running in circles? Hammond notes that frustration takes root when a person feels they are not being heard. Listen for repetition, pitch and volume. Hammond reminds us that speaking louder doesn’t make intent clearer, but we often do it. Try asking the person to explain their position using different language.
How to Move From Complaint to Solution
Shift an emotional confrontation to a productive conversation by showing the other person they’ve been heard.
- Acknowledging frustration validates an experience (making someone feel heard) without agreeing with them. Say: “I can hear this is frustrating for you,” then move forward with a question: “What I’d like to know is…”
- Pivot diplomatically: Move the conversation toward brainstorming solutions while ensuring you have correctly identified the issue(s) by saying: “I’m starting to hear some solutions coming up in our conversation. Are you at a place where we can start discussing those options so we can move forward together?”
- Win-win outcomes are not realistic. In her experience mediating corporate conflicts, Hammond says she’s yet to see a win-win outcome. Instead, she suggests aiming for “an agreement both parties can live with.” In other words, a “mostly okay-mostly okay” outcome.
- Make an agreement: Ask the client what they understand the agreement to be, so they acknowledge the part of the plan they need to take ownership of.
Use Curiosity to Disarm
Hammond suggests a powerful strategy for dealing with personal attacks. Instead of responding to criticism or an insult with defensiveness or justification, respond with curiosity. (Easier said than done, to be sure.) Follow up with a question or ask the person to explain their intent. It might sound like this: “Help me understand. I’m not sure I understood what you meant when you said…” The reason this works is that it forces the other person to acknowledge their insult.
Three Quotable Quotes from Charmaine
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