Over the years, I've seen many prospects, clients and colleagues gloss over trouble spots and skirt reality to win business, keep the meeting going or avoid confrontation. Later, when those issues surface mid-project or mid-relationship, everyone wants to poke their eyes out.
All relationships face conflict, and almost all relationships have fights. Many of us are conditioned to run away or back off when there’s a disagreement in business. But that solves nothing. I say fight hard but fight early.
Deal with the difficult stuff at the start, even if it means not winning the work or slowing a project down, and continue to deal as issues arise. Clients and staff appreciate honest conversation, at least most of the time. If they don’t, you may have far greater issues than the one at hand.
Here are five key areas where fighting early will leave a lasting impression and create long-term positive outcomes:
Many prospects have their own game plan and expect you to follow along, play by their rules and bow to every request. Don’t do it. If your intuition or your game plan is different than theirs, speak up. Ask tough questions and don’t be afraid to say “No.” If the goal is a transparent, unified and lasting relationship, this behavior serves everyone’s needs. A prospect that tries to push you around will become a client that pushes you around, and I assure you– nobody wins in that scenario. You and your team won’t perform at their peak and the client won’t get the best from you. Establish clear upfront contracts to guide discussions with prospects, and don’t be afraid to confront when either party has veered too far from the agreed-upon goals.
Related: 7 Steps for Keeping Conflict Healthy
I hate to break it to you, but the customer is not always right. It’s been my experience that one of the strongest customer service behaviors is disagreement. If you don’t agree with a position, assertion, direction or opinion, it does nobody good to agree and move on. Stand up for what you believe and provide evidence. Disagreeing without context will get you nowhere. Explain why you have your position and why a different approach or conclusion is worth consideration.
Don’t get pushed around. You’ve worked hard to arrive at your current position, no matter what level in an organization. Standing up for and asserting yourself in a respectful manner is always the right decision. Stick to your values and hold those bullies accountable. It’s important to Understand what kind of behavior diminishes group performance and holds everyone back.
This can get a little delicate, but it’s an absolute must-have. Straight-shooting communication with reports, peers and superiors is important for building trust. If you have the courage to hold them accountable, they’ll return the favor and you’ll all feel comfy about it. However, with some colleagues you might feel like you’re in a constant state of “fight early.” If that’s the case, you might want to have a fierce conversation (see next bullet).
One of the best ways to get back on track in the event you let something slide or if you’re in a constant state of conflict is to have a fierce conversation. This is a way to approach a challenging subject, declare its presence, accept responsibility for your part and express a desire to resolve it. Among my favorite books, “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott is the quintessential guide to productive, respectful and results-driven communication and leadership. It changed the way I think about challenging communication and opened a world of courage and candor.
I’ve always been an advocate for fighting early. But for the record, fighting is adult-to-adult, respectful communication and tonality is key. The idea of fighting might lead you to believe that this is about raising your voice or taking an aggressive posture. It’s not. It’s about asserting yourself in a fierce way, while keeping cool and gently guiding the conversation.
When disagreement is cordial and respectful, everyone wins.