Dialogue Jump-Start: 5 Tips for Difficult Conversations with Clients

Clients. They’re your bread and butter, the conduit for doing the work you love. They can also be the thorns in your side, inducing digital dread of email and fear of phones.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll offer five tips for jump-starting dialogue with clients—before, during, or after things get messy. These five tips will help you keep your balance when you have to confront a client-related problem, transform conflict into joint problem solving, or create a foundation that will keep your client relationships strong and healthy.

Unlike most conflict resolution tips, these five won’t be techniques to memorize and deliver. Here’s why, by way of a story told me in class by one of my mediation students:

“I got into an argument with my husband this morning. It wasn’t about anything dire, just daily little stuff. I thought to myself, I’ll put my good mediator skills to use and make this conversation go better! So I did all the right things: I reflected back, I asked good questions, I uncovered interests, I reframed. I was so proud of myself!

“But there was one little problem. It was making things worse. The more I did my mediator stuff, the angrier my husband seemed to get. At first I thought he was just reacting pettily because it was clear that I was handling myself so much better than he was handling himself. Then it hit me.

“I was putting my good skills to use for evil purpose! I was using my good skills, but using them with the intent to make him see it my way. And the more I backed my husband into the corner, the harder he worked to get out, the angrier he got, and the more downhill the conversation went…That’s when I finally really got it: all the good skills in the world are only truly effective when they’re used with the right intention.”

Memorized techniques—like my student’s reflecting, use of interests, and reframes—will only carry you so far. It’s the intention behind them that makes the real difference. And so, in that spirit, I’ll be discussing four key intentions and a fifth tip to bring them all together:

The Dialogue Jump-Start Tip Series will include:

1. Be Curious George
2. Be Kerri Strug
3. Go to the Movies
4. Be the Anti-Ostrich
5. Give Your Fingers a Rest

Stay tuned for my first post…

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