Avoiding Difficult Conversations

by | Apr 25, 2022

“I tend to avoid difficult conversations.”

That comment on a recent workshop survey had me thinking–does anyone actually pursue difficult conversations?

Then I remembered someone who did back in the day–me. They weren’t so much difficult conversations with colleagues or bosses or employees, they were difficult conversations with customers.

In my first career (first besides summer lifeguarding, as you do at the Jersey shore) I managed restaurants. During my stint at Uncle Julio’s Hacienda in Chicago they sent us managers off to Dallas for customer service training.

During this training I learned the concept: the customer isn’t always right, but they are always the customer.

DUDE. Game. Changer.

This concept was so FREEING because I knew half the time I was trying to do right by a complaining customer I was also getting internally fired up because I KNEW they were wrong, but they were the customer. So according to the old adage, “The customer is always right” I HAD to do what they said, even though I wanted to school them on being WRONG. It was exhausting for me and led to equally unsatisfied customers.

Not anymore.

After I learned this concept (and a few other skills) I became that person that sought out that complaining customer. No longer was it about right or wrong. No longer did I get annoyed and aggravated knowing they were “wrong” but I had to do something to make it better anyway. Instead, it was hey, they think this (wrong) but I’m here to make the situation right. Who cares if they don’t know an enchilada from a fajita, I’m going to remember that they are the customer, and the whole point is to keep them coming back.

Now potential difficult conversations come up with my clients, husband, or friends. While I don’t use ALL of my customer service techniques on these folks, I do call to mind that lesson about the customer not being right, but still being the customer.

What if we approached these difficult conversations by freeing ourselves and the other person from being “right” or “wrong?” What if we think well, they are STILL my client/spouse/colleague/employee, so how can I seek out these conversations to not prove what’s wrong or right, but rather get to a deeper understanding? To get the full picture?

When we drop the need to be right or prove the other person wrong, we can enter into these conversations with a more clear intention, and perhaps stop avoiding these tough conversations.


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