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Solving your business conflicts

Book Review: Do you make your own grief?

I Hear You: Repair Communication Breakdowns, Negotiate Successfully, and Build Consensus . . . in Three Simple Steps. By Donny Ebenstein. Amacom, 288 pages. I Hear You: Repair Communication Breakdowns, Negotiate Successfully, and Build Consensus . . . in Three Simple Steps. By Donny Ebenstein. Amacom, 288 pages.

My customer was upset over fees they had paid on an account. This was a very important customer to whom I obviously wanted to give good service. But the fees were agreed upon when the account was opened.

I have always prided myself in being able to calm upset customers by keeping myself calm and working with them to solve their problem. But in this case no matter how hard I tried to resolve the problem, they wouldn’t listen.

Have you ever found yourself in a strained situation with another person where you were totally stuck? 

Frequently in such circumstances, it seems the harder you try to make the situation better, the worse it grows.

My customer challenge came at the same time this book arrived. And I found my solution in its pages.

How this book defused my customer challenge

As I began reading I Hear You, I realized I needed a new approach to this difficulty.

Using the book, I prepared and rehearsed a phone call in which the first thing I said was:

“I understand you are upset. You are one of our very best customers and the last thing I would ever want to do is intentionally upset you. I understand why you don’t like the account you now have and I would like to help you find another account that better suits your needs.” 

The customer became cooperative and we were able to work together to resolve the  issue.

This wasn’t my first such challenge, and it won’t be the last. These instances can happen at work, home, school, or within volunteer groups in the community. You simply feel stuck in the situation. But this book proves you can find a way out.

Author Donny Ebenstein, who has a Harvard Law degree, has worked for many years as a business coach and shares examples of circumstances where his clients felt stuck in troubling situations and how he helped individuals take action to resolve these tough nuts.

This book will give you active ways you can change stuck situations, but beware. The burden for change is on you! 

Get out of your own mental groove

The most common reaction we have when we are in a strained relationship with someone else is that it is “them” causing the problem.

We naturally talk about such conflicts with our close family, friends, or business colleagues. They may make our stuck situations with others worse. They wish to be supportive, and sympathize with our feelings, so they reassure us it isn’t our fault. This in turn makes you feel there is nothing you can do to correct the situation. We bog down.

However, the author underscores that the only person you have the ability to actively change in these instances is you.

One thing is apparent. When you find yourself stuck, you must act. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “The best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

The question is, “If I think the other person is wrong in a situation, how do I shift my perspective to approach this person differently without compromising my side of the story?” 

Ebenstein counsels that you needn’t concede that you are wrong; you just need to consider that the other person may be looking at the situation very differently.

“Flexing your mind” is how the author defines this essential strategy.

“All of us need to learn how to look at a situation from another point of view,” Ebenstein writes, “not instead of our own perspective, but alongside our own perspective.” 

There are no magic words or formulas that work in every difficult situation. But if you are open to flexing your mind, it is the first step in trying to resolve the issue.

Be mindful of the baggage you bring

We all have different backgrounds that we bring into relationships. When we begin to look at conflicts from the other persons’ perspective, we begin to realize they too have different backgrounds and cultures that they bring into the relationship. Many times it is difficult for us to accept the fact it is our background and the way we want things done that is causing the conflict.

We often hear of individuals who are excellent salesmen who are promoted into sales manager positions. In their new role they have to begin managing the sales staff reporting to them. Some find the transition difficult.

An example given in the book was of one such salesman turned manager who was having a conflict with his sales staff because they refused to accept his program. He wanted them to make more customer calls.

One salesman in particular refused to make more frequent calls on his existing customers in spite of the sales manager asking him numerous times to make the calls. The sales manager sought coaching from the author to help him become a more effective manager.

Ebenstein asked the sales manager to assume the role of the salesman and tell the salesman’s side of the story. When he did, he realized if he were a salesman he wouldn’t want the manager telling him how to handle his accounts.

However, the manager was very successful as a salesman and felt the extra calls were what had made him a top seller.

But the manager took Ebenstein’s advice to heart. He came to realize that his management style made his sales staff feel they were being micromanaged. So, he changed his approach. He suggested to the sales staff that if they wanted to sell more to their clients, making more frequent calls would provide them those opportunities. He related to them he had found this extremely helpful in his ability to be a top salesman.

The sales staff then understood his comments were more about how to improve the team’s sales and not so much about micromanaging their efforts.

Breaking your conflict habits

One of the Ebenstein’s strategies is looking from the outside in.

This is a process of self-examination and considering how you come across to the other person in the conflict.

Do you have certain topics in which you always find yourself in a conflict?  Do you have certain topics where you become very emotional or angry when dealing with others? 

In these situations you need to evaluate how your emotion and bias is contributing to the conflict. When you shift perspectives it isn’t that you are wrong and the other person is right, but you are recognizing that you can hold both perspectives at the same time without rejecting one or the other as right.

One woman came to the author seeking assistance in dealing with her peers at work. She felt her coworkers were always taking advantage of her by overloading her with their work. They would ask her for help and even as she was telling them “no,” they would assign her additional projects. She resented this.

The author suggested that he and she role-play a conversation with her peers and video record the conversation. Once the woman saw the vide, she realized she thought she was telling her peers no, but when she saw the video she realized she had never once actually said the word “no.”

During the role-play conversation she said she was very busy. In her mind that translated to, “No, I can’t possibly take on more work.” Her peers were all busy too. So what they heard her say was, “I’m very busy, but so is everyone, so I can take on more work.” 

By taking a step back and looking at how she was communicating with her peers, she realized she wasn’t sending them the message she thought.

An uncomfortable but essential mirror

The concepts presented in this book are difficult, because they all require self-reflection and examination.

Most of the time it is very difficult for us to admit that we may be contributing to an ongoing conflict in our lives.

The author provides many examples of individuals he has worked with over the years that were mired in conflict. Most of them were contributors to their own grief, but they were so emotional and close to the situation, they couldn’t see their own faults.

Through role-playing, videotaping, and recording the conversations with his clients, Ebenstein afforded them the opportunity to see themselves from a different perspective and “flex their mind.”

In some conflicts there is no solution. Ebenstein recognizes this and in those rare situations the author suggests walking away.

But this was only after all other methods had been exhausted.

I would recommend this book to all bankers. It is an easy and enjoyable read. I’m just sorry I didn’t read it earlier in my career.

Jane Haskin

Jane Haskin is president & CEO, First Bethany Bank, Okla. Haskin, a member of ABA's Community Bankers Council, is a frequent reviewer for ABABJ.com.

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