The Art of the Confrontation
Maylan Newton doesn’t have confrontations. He has conversations.
The CEO of the Educational Seminars Institute has guided shop owners through countless tricky situations and particularly tough conversations.
“It all comes down to one central question,” Newton said in his recent AAPEX 2020 virtual session on extreme communication. “What is the real difference between open communication and having a confrontation?”
In his experience, dealing with difficult conversations, whether you’re acknowledging an employee’s poor job performance or breaking bad news to a customer, all boils down to the way you approach uncomfortable situations.
“For most of us communication on those sensitive subjects because it’s part of our human nature to avoid conflict,” he said.
He sees it all the time. Owners that avoid the unpleasant topics tend to keep issues in and hold on until they’re prone to explode or react emotionally, risking the chance to find calm and strategic resolutions that could benefit the team and the company as a whole. With that in mind, Newton helped break down the elements owners should keep top of mind when approaching their next tough conversation.
Change your mindset
Approaching tough conversations from a different perspective—as a time to check in and touch base rather than a battle to be won—can make all the difference, according to Newton.
“In these tough conversations that we struggle with can be perceived as a bad thing, but you don’t have to see it that way,” he said. “You can approach these conversations as an opportunity to help someone become a better employee or leader. All you need to do is change your thought process.”
Newton also finds approaching difficult conversations can put you on the defensive from the get-go, creating a barrier for open communication, making the other person feel attacked and putting them on defense as well.
“It’s not who you’re talking to or the subject matter, it’s the way you feel about it. If we can look inwards at ourselves and be conscious of how we’re going into those conversations, we’ll be much better communicators.”
“What I advise my clients to do is have that conversation you’ve been worried about right way. The next morning even, if you can,” said Newton.
If an employee has an issue arriving to work on time, for example, Newtown recommends pulling the employee aside to talk as soon as they walk in the door.
“The worst thing you can do is let a bad situation fester. It’s just going to gnaw at you. That’s why these conversations can be extreme—we worry about them, they keep us up at night and emotions end up running high.”
And while you don’t want to drag your feet, Newton advises opting for a planned conversation, leaving time to prepare and back up your points with facts, rather than a spur of the moment talk (most likely fueled by anger and frustrations). “You can be stern and there can be consequences, but there shouldn’t be anger.”
Newton’s found many business owners and leaders are actually running their businesses based on emotional decisions and advises shop owners to keep their emotions out of difficult conversations as much as possible.
“The best thing you can do is think of every conversation as just that—a conversation.The more you can stay calm and focused on the objective, the better.”
Become a Student of People
Studies show that 80 percent of communication is nonverbal, meaning the actions that come from our body language and behavior, truly speak louder than words.
“Everything in body language is a clue to how to deal with people and communicate best with them; the way someone uses their hands, the way they stand,” said Newton. “If you’re paying attention the signs are there.”
Eye contact, a lean in or a subtle eye roll can all be hints an employee or customer is distracted, for example, leading to potential miscommunications or a client that feels they’re not being listened to or valued.
Newton also recommends operators think of nonverbal communication from the flip side, being conscious that their body language and habits are being studied as well.
“Keep in mind that others are watching you and they’ll base their reactions off of your behavior, not what you say,” Newton said. “If your employees or customers see you’re upset or looking for a confrontation, they’ll be looking for a confrontation. They’ll meet you where you’re at so it’s up to you to set the tone.”