Do you find yourself having a hesitancy to being direct with clients or team members? You know, those moments where you need to tell them something they do not want to hear, so you hesitate to have the conversation or skirt around it as much as possible? No matter what business you’re in, at some point, you’ll have people in your world you will need to tell things to that they really don’t want to hear. For example, I have some work being done at my house. It’s a pretty big job. I’ve been told it will cost X amount of dollars. With supply chain issues and costs rising, it’s possible the job will end up costing more and someone will need to inform me of that. That’s not a fun call to make. 

What often ends up happening…when we have bad news to share…is we hold back, sugarcoat, delay, or we just don’t tell the whole story. What I’d like you to think about is…if you find yourself holding back from having a conversation with a client or someone on your team, who is that really about? 

It’s not them, it’s you.

When we find ourselves in these situations, it’s not about them…it’s about us. We’re holding back because WE don’t want to have that conversation. If it’s a conversation that they really need to hear, I can guarantee holding back is not helping them. And if the person is a client or someone on your team, you probably made a commitment to help them. By holding back or only sharing part of it, we fail to live up to what we committed to doing. We’re holding back for our own self-preservation, so that we don’t have to feel uncomfortable. This may not be something you want to hear (or read), but that’s just SELFISH. We’re making it about us instead of making it about them. 

Now…knowing this or being reminded of this…does it make that conversation any easier? No, not really. So, I’d like to share a technique that may help you to be less hesitant when you need to have a difficult conversation with someone.

My favorite technique is to ask for permission. Now, I like to do this earlier in the relationship…when I have no bad news to deliver…and just ask “if I ever have a situation where I need to communicate something either sensitive or challenging in nature, on a scale of 1 to 10, how direct would you like me to be with you? 

Side note: we ask how “direct” not how “honest” they would like us to be. Asking how honest they’d like you to be implies that…well, you’re not always honest.

In my experience, when I’ve asked this, the vast majority of people have said 10. Occasionally I’ll get a 9. No matter what they say, the follow-up is “Great, what does <blank> mean to you?” Now, if they say 10, this doesn’t mean be rude. Being direct is not the same as being rude. There’s no need to add insult to injury here. Just let them know what they need to hear. Once you have their answer, you both know where you stand.

Now, when the time comes, and a conversation is needed…and you know it could be unpleasant…you need to start the conversation with that same question again. “Hey, something has come up that we need to discuss that may be hard for you to hear, so I just need to ask…on a scale from 1 to 10, how direct would you like me to be with you right now?” If they said 10 before, they’ll most likely say 10 again. And again, ask them what a 10 means to them…and then stay within the boundaries of that while making sure you tell them what they need to hear.

By asking for permission, by asking how direct they’d like you to be, I’ve found that it makes it difficult for them to be mad at the messenger. We’re just conveying something they may not want to hear, but they need to hear it. We’re putting their interests before ours…which in business, this is what we should be doing. No matter your industry, if you want to grow your business, if you want to have a thriving business, we have to deliver for our customers…and our team members…and sometimes that means we need to have challenging conversations. 

There are plenty of people who tell us what we want to hear. How many are telling us what we need to hear? Ask yourself this, what is the value that you bring to the table for the people that you work with by being direct? How does it help them? How can you stay focused on that? Bad news does not get better with time. In other words, the moment I realize something needs to be conveyed…and I know it won’t be a fun conversation…every minute I wait to have it, it gets worse. Many times, it’s because we’re losing time to speculate, to make decisions, or losing other opportunities because we haven’t shifted in the direction we need to shift to.

Bad news does not get better with time.

When I get into business with someone, I tell people to hit me with a 10. And to me, a 10 doesn’t mean just to be direct in telling me what I need to know, it also means I want it in a timely manner. I can’t do anything about bad news if I don’t know about it. However, as soon as I know…there are a number of things I can do or options to take action on. 

I hope this has been helpful. This truly has been something that has made a real difference in the quality of relationships I’ve had, both with clients and with members of my team. If you’d like to dive deeper into this, please reach out.