By Andrew Sobel
Has this ever happened to you? Youre talking to a client, or perhaps your boss, and you realize the conversation has gotten off on the wrong foot. You might have learned new and unexpected information from the other person that renders everything youve said irrelevant. You might have walked in with an assumption that was not true. You find youre not connecting, or you said the wrong thing, and tension and anger start to creep into the exchange. It doesnt matter what happened. What does matter is that a potentially productive business conversation has become awkward and stilted, or even worse, heated and combative.
You have three options for what to do next:
This is one of many questions in the book, “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others,” which explores dozens of questions that light fires under people, challenge their assumptions and help them see problems in productive new ways. There is a grand total of 337 power questions to help readers succeed at work and in life.
Back to starting over: “Power Questions” co-author, Jerold Panas, recalls the time he walked into the office of a wealthy benefactor named Allan to ask for a million-dollar donation to his alma maters college of engineering. Though he knew better, Panas failed to gain rapport and explore Allans true interests before jumping in with the big request. When he was severely rebuked for his presumptuousness, Panas realized he had made a serious error and dug himself into a deep hole. He got up and excused himself, left the room and 10 seconds later knocked on the door and asked the power question, “Do you mind if we start over?”
Allan smiled and invited Panas to sit down. They started over, and after approaching the revived conversation the right way, Panas discovered that Allan was interested in making a major gift, but to the universitys theater program, not the engineering program.
Try it yourself. The next time a conversation gets off on the wrong foot or veers off track, reset with this powerful question and try these tactics:
Its a bold move to restart a conversation from scratch; it feels awkward. Most of us are not accustomed to swallowing our pride, admitting in real time that we screwed up and asking if we can make it right. Next time a conversation goes wrong, try it. Not only will it salvage the moment, it will pave the way for a more authentic and productive relationship in the future.
Andrew Sobel is the most widely published author in the world on client loyalty and the capabilities required to build trusted business relationships. His first book, the bestselling “Clients for Life,” defined the genre of business literature about client loyalty. His other books include “Making Rain” and the award-winning “All for One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships.” For 30 years, Andrew has worked as both a consultant to senior management and as an executive educator and coach. His clients have included Citigroup, Xerox, Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton and Towers Watson. Andrew is a graduate of Middlebury College and earned his MBA at Dartmouths Tuck School.
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