It’s happened to me when I’ve interviewed small-business owners and questioned some of their statements. It’s happened to friends when they tried to return an item or complain about a service. And it almost always happens to one of the potential investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
A small-business owner faced with a conflict or challenge suddenly shifts from easy-going and excited to snippy and belligerent.
I understand that autonomy is a common trait for entrepreneurs, but owners shouldn’t take feedback personally or go barking at customers (or me) when they face conflict. It could cost customers and revenue.
“We are emotional people,” said Fred Hathaway, managing director of EntreDot, a Cary-based organization that seeks to help small businesses. If you don’t have a plan on how to react when someone pushes your hot button, “whatever comes out is generally not supportive to enhancing the relationship,” he said.
Owners need to create a system that enables them to provide a consistent response to volatile situations – just like they would establish production and customer service protocols.
Hathaway follows a five-step model for monitoring emotions that includes self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation and social skills. Hathaway recommends owners write down those five things, tape it near their work area or on the back of their smartphone and review it during tense situations.
“After you have done this a dozen times or so, this becomes how you interact,” which can positively influence several different kinds of relationships, Hathaway said.
Self-awareness: When you encounter a confrontation, Hathaway said, you have to “check yourself” with self-awareness and ask yourself: “How am I feeling about this? Mad? Defensive? How will that influence how I react?”
Self-regulation: If in doubt, follow the proverbial advice: If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.
“If your first reaction is to blast someone, don’t say anything,” Hathaway said.
Empathy: Putting yourself in your customers’ situation helps you get to a place where you are considering their perspective versus blasting them, Hathaway said.
Ask yourself, “OK, if I were the consumer in this situation, what would my expectations be?” he said.
Motivation: Think about your motivation and what you hope the outcome will be, Hathaway said. There are at least three things to weigh: You don’t want them to bad-mouth you. You want to keep the customer. And you should calculate and understand the lifetime value of the relationship.
Social skills: Are you using your social skills, such as listening twice as much as you are talking?
“When you are in a confrontational situation, make sure you give them time to give their piece before you jump in,” Hathaway said.