Difficult Conversations and Difficult Self-Control

Difficult Conversations and Difficult Self-Control

We have all experienced the good and the bad of dealing with tech support, information technology departments, and IT people in general.  We have received exceptional customer service and support by understanding people who genuinely want to see our problems resolved.  We have also experienced the opposite where we have to work with irritated individuals who hardly seem to have the slightest bit of interest in helping to fix our problem.  Or worse yet, they seem to loathe having to talk to a lowly “user.”

The majority of people that work in IT are fantastic.  They do a terrific job day-in-and-day-out while having to deal with people that are generally annoyed and frustrated.  I am proud of my team members when they can keep their composure and work with difficult people to resolve their issues without allowing themselves to get pulled into an often baited hostile exchange.

This last week, I have averaged about 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night.  It has been hectic, and I was exhausted.  This is prime time for something to go wrong.

Friday, I had a conversation with someone who knew that I was frustrated about a problem that should have never occurred in the first place.  This company failed in its promise of proactive communication and lost touch with its own customer base.  When I started the conversation, I informed this senior person about my concerns in a direct, professional, and non-threatening manner.  I expressed my concerns about the current technical failure, lack of communication, and how we were beginning to feel abandoned by their organization.  After having a focused and sometimes heated discussion for about an hour, I abruptly stopped the conversation.  I was no longer making any headway with the individual.  He dug in his heels and was going to let me just twist.  This highly technical person was entrenched in his position, forgetting about the customer, and was no longer listening to me.

I asked, what was the value of our elevated conversation?  The phone was dead silent.  Why were we both getting more emotionally committed to positions that were not in either ones best interests?  More silence…I wondered, was it Ego?  Arrogance?  Just a bad day?  Once we had both become entrenched in our positions, we would never be able to find a workable position and achieve a positive outcome.  The conversation was over, and I suggested that we reconvene in the afternoon.

When we spoke again, I decided that I was going to change my tactics a bit and refuse to play the game.  I was not going to make a direct request or demand.  This conversation was going to be different.  Instead of telling what I wanted, I was going to ask what I wanted.  And ask, and ask, and ask I did, but not directly you see.  That is too obvious and people will tend to get as defensive with direct asks as they would with direct statements or demands.  I kept on asking what he would do over and over again about minor aspects of the problem.  Each question was built on a prior question.  This was slower of a route to go then being direct, but much quicker if the person you are working with is closed off and not amenable to any direct statements or demands.

The second round of our conversation lasted about 90-minutes, and I must have asked about 40 questions.  I never made a single demand or strong statement.  I only asked what he would do about various aspects of my problem.  In the end, by maintaining a greater sense of self-control and realizing that I could not engage this person in a direct manner, I was able to adjust my approach to match what this person needed.  By the end of our 90-minute conversation, he agreed to take the necessary actions to resolve our problem.

Key learning from this exchange?  Listen and observe the person while having a difficult conversation to pick up on the subtle hints to what they need.  People predominately want to help even when they do not realize it.  When we get ourselves into a situation with someone who does not realize they really want to help, we have to be agile and change our approach to match their personality and need.  When you fill their “need” then they will become helpful.  This person needed to come to the resolution without being told.  

The old saying is true, kill them with kindness…

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