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Seek win-win solutions with everybody

By Charlie Nichols

Retaining the best employees and building good relationships with customers are two things that must be done in order to grow a business. It's important to take care of both customers and employees.

So when problems arise (as they inevitably will) we must be able to handle difficult conversations effectively. Here are 8 suggestions for resolving problems with our customers and our employees.

1. Don't let your knee-jerk, first reaction be no. Some managers think that, "if you give an employee an inch they'll take a mile." But it's not true. Other managers think that, "customers always want something for nothing." That's also false. There are occasional exceptions (don't be naive) but the reality is this: Most people, employees and customers alike, are fair minded and won't take advantage of a situation.

So find a way to say yes. Rather than seeing the customer or employee as an adversary. Let the person know you are on their side. Literally, use the words, "I am on your side." This approach allows the customer or employee to lower their defenses and work with you to find a win-win solution.

2. Gather all the facts. Many times employees or customers will ask you about something the details of which you are unaware. Perform the necessary discovery and get all the information you can. Take time to "sleep on it." This will give you the room you need to sort things out in your mind. The extra time can help you discover a win-win solution.

Note: When you say you'll get back to someone, do it. Don't make them contact you first for an answer. Communication is key. Don't let things drag on. Keep the person informed throughout your decision-making process.

3. Have empathy. Walk in the other person's shoes. Be patient and understanding. Maybe the person has frustrations at home. Perhaps he's plugged into the wrong job and is uncomfortable or overwhelmed with his responsibilities. Maybe he's simply having a bad day. Even when the person is wrong, remain objective and genuinely try to understand their situation. Doing this will help you focus on finding a win-win solution.

4. Think long term. See the bigger picture. Digging in and showing no concession may win the short-term battle, but compromising can achieve the long term goal of building strong customer relationships and keeping talented and experienced employees?

Zig Ziglar was famous for saying, "You can have everything in life you want, if you'll just help enough other people get what they want." Sure, there are times when you have to say no. But, when people can see that you try to accommodate them when you can, they'll usually work with you to find win-win solutions.

5. Take the high road. Keep things positive. No matter what, don't allow yourself to be sucked into negativity. Be kind, respectful and calm. Smile and remain unflappable. Don't allow the situation to escalate. Always focus on finding win-win solutions.

6. Do what is right. Be in good faith and be honest. Let customers and employees know your intent is to do the right thing.

Note: Sometimes "the right thing" is obvious. It's very clear. It is easy to determine. But there are times when there's a grey area and it's harder to determine what the right thing is. In these situations, try asking the person what they think is right. Oftentimes they'll ask for a resolution more reasonable than you thought they might.

7. Set aside personalities. Sure, some people are more difficult than others. Some folks can be downright impossible! But don't let it cloud your thinking. Refuse to let their personality (or lack thereof) control how you react. Look past the personality and concentrate on solving the problem. It's not your job to correct the person's personality. Your job is to focus on finding a win-win solution.

8. Be willing to apologize. We all make mistakes. None of us is perfect and no business process is perfect. We sometimes drop the ball. Contrary to popular belief, apologizing is not a sign of weakness. Accepting responsibility and admitting fault can be a sign of strength and self-confidence.

Caution: Don't go overboard with your apology. Don't dwell on the mistake. You can't "unring" a bell. Apologize, make things right, correct the process so that the mistake doesn't happen again, and MOVE ON.

A last final note: In every interaction, look for the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt. When you try, you can always find something you like and something to admire about each one of your customers and everyone you work with. Always be sincere. When you do this, people will sense it. They'll be much more willing to work with you toward win-win solutions.

Charlie Nichols lives in Paducah and is general manager of TAG Truck Center in Calvert City. TAG is West Kentucky's full service Freightliner and Western Star heavy duty commercial truck dealership.

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