Eventually, all small business owners are faced with a customer who’s ready for conversational battle. Sometimes there is good reason for these combative conversations; sometimes there isn’t. Either way, when faced with this situation, you might get the urge to fight back. Or you might try to submit or adhere to every demand of the other person. Neither of these options is a good idea. Instead, the best way to extinguish a fiery conversation is to be assertive. To do this you need to listen up, pace yourself, and then take the lead.
Listen up. In a poker game, the player who bets last has a big advantage because he or she gets to hear the other bets first. Using the extra information, he or she can make better decisions. This principle is the same for conversations, especially difficult ones. Always let difficult customers speak first so you can use what they tell you to craft the right response.
Pace yourself. Mirror the customer’s body language, tone of voice, and talking speed. This is known as pacing. Don’t duplicate the behavior, but strive to create similarities. Take into consideration gestures, posture, hand positioning, and rhythm of speech. If mirrored smoothly, it will create an instant connection. If applicable, use a phrase such as: "If I were you, I would feel the same way."
Take the lead. Once you have established a rapport, you can start to move the conversation where you want it to go. Slowly bring your tone, body language, and breathing into a calmer, more relaxed condition and the customer will follow. Lead customers out of their current emotional state by putting their feelings in the past with statements such as: "So you were mad when …."
Always strive to achieve a state of cooperation in the customer relationship. No matter how difficult a customer is being, you have been approached because he or she believes you can help. By using the listening, pacing, and leading method, you can bring the customer to a position where solutions are much more easily realized.
Centre of Negotiation at Copenhagen Business School
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