The art of starting over
Ever get off on the wrong foot with a client?
February 24, 2012 by Robert Koci
By Andrew Sobel
Has this ever happened to you? You’re talking to a client and you realize the conversation has gotten off on absolutely the wrong foot. You may have learned new and unexpected information from the other person that renders everything you’ve said irrelevant. You may have walked in with an assumption that turned out to be false. Or, you find you’re not connecting, and tension and anger start to creep into the exchange. It really doesn’t matter the reason. What does matter is that a potentially productive business conversation has become awkward and stilted—or even worse, superheated and combative.
What do you do next? You have three options:
1. Continue trying to make your point. The tension and awkwardness will likely escalate, and you’ll find that you and the other person are farther and farther apart.
2. Bring the conversation to an abrupt end and exit stage left. Both of you will be left with a bad taste in your mouth.
3. Salvage the situation with the judicious use of seven magic words: Do you mind if we start over? The next time a conversation gets off on the wrong foot or veers off track, reset with this powerful question.
If the answer is “yes”, when you start over, really start over. You don’t have to actually leave the room and come back in, but draw a sharp dividing line between the bad conversation and the new one. A good way to reset is to ask the other person a question and draw them back into the conversation as an active participant. It could be something as simple as “Can I ask—how have you been thinking about this?” or “Let’s step back for a second—can you share your view of the situation?”
It’s a bold, gutsy move to restart a conversation from scratch. Yes, it feels awkward. Most of us are not accustomed to swallowing our pride, admitting in real time that we screwed up, and asking if we can make it right. But the next time a conversation goes wrong, try it. Not only will it salvage the moment, it will pave the way for a more authentic and productive relationship in the future.
Andrew Sobel is the most widely published author in the world on client loyalty and the capabilities required to build trusted business relationships. He is author (along with Jerold Panas) of the new book Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, February 2012, ISBN: 978-11181196-3-1, $22.95, www.andrewsobel.com).