In the course of business, you sometimes encounter someone who’s a bit upset. Maybe more than a bit, on rare occasions. They may be a customer, prospect or even a supplier. The question is, “how do you deal with them?” or “how do you avoid making the situation even worse?”
Everyone encounters these situations sooner or later, and everyone has a different approach. My solution is to follow certain principles that have served me well over the years in RL, and it turns out they work well in Second Life too.
In any conflict situation, my initial assumption is that at least 90% of all problems are caused by poor communication. Somebody knows something the other person does not. To solve the problem, often you merely need to make each side understand the same information, and that’s the basis of my approach. Here are my principles, in no particular order:
- Action. You have a situation, deal with it! Do not let situations lie, because they tend to grow. The first step to solving the situation is deciding to take action.
- Listen. It is so important to listen to the other party. Force yourself to be quiet and let them say everything they want to say. Some of it may be wrong, accusatory or perhaps evil, but let them say it. They will feel better if they do. But don’t immediately jump on every point they make, as that simply escalates the problem. Remember, you’re here to solve a problem, not to create a war.
- Ask. If something doesn’t sound right, ask them. Ask them to clarify what they are saying. Sometimes when you do this, information (or lack thereof) comes to light and resolution may suddenly occur. Consider asking a question that directly or indirectly leads to information you suspect the other party may not be aware of.
- Be Honest. Never tell fibs, especially when in a confrontational situation. If the truth comes out (and it always does, sooner or later) you will be in a very bad position. While it may take only a moment to destroy your credibility, it takes one hundred times longer to build a good reputation. You can’t easily resolve a situation if you are not considered credible.
- Empathize. When you listen to the other party’s story, empathize with them. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were in their shoes, if you knew the information they knew. More often than not, you will quickly understand how they came to be in conflict with you and thus you can then formulate a solution.
- Apologize. Yes, sometimes you can be wrong. And you must admit it. It can be humbling, but your future reputation depends on you being honest. So if you are truly in the wrong, just come out and say so. Your credibility and honesty will be raised as a result. In most cases like this, the other party simply wants an apology.
- Solve. At some point in the discussion you will reach a stage where you should propose a solution. You’ll have to think on your feet, and quickly to determine some course of action that will satisfy the other party.
- Offer. Don’t hesitate to offer something to the other party, if it is appropriate. You are running a business that presumably has resources and capabilities. Be creative and conjure up something imaginative that you are willing to do or part with in order to save the relationship.
I am certain some readers may suggest these are wimpy or passive techniques, and that more aggressive confrontational approaches should be used. I’m just not comfortable with them, as they very frequently do not work and usually make the situation far worse. They may be personally satisfying for the moment, but they usually compromise your future reputation.
While I write these principles with respect to handling business disputes, they are really quite usable for many other types of confrontational scenarios. I try to avoid the drama that so often unfolds in SL, but I’m pretty sure some of these approaches may help resolve some of that drama.
These approaches may not work for everyone in every situation, but they usually work for me. Really, they do - Ask my customers!