Last week I introduced an approach for recovering from a frustrating customer conversation, based on an exercise shared in the book Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values by Fred Kofman. If you haven’t yet read last week’s article, you’ll want to start there.

If you followed part one of the exercise, you’ll now have a document with two columns that describe your frustrating customer conversation. The right-hand column contains exactly what was said between you and the customer (to the best of your recollection). The left-hand column contains all of the things you were thinking (during and after the conversation) but didn’t say.

Now that you have this list, you’ve already taken a step toward recovery. By writing down your thoughts, you’ve acknowledged what’s there and you now have an opportunity for how to respond to them. This will make you less likely to inadvertently react to the (likely toxic) thoughts.

To start part two, look back at the left-hand column and notice the number of items that include assumptions—there are likely many assumptions about your customer’s intent.

Now, imagine that your customer completed the same exercise about your conversation. What would be in their left-hand column? You don’t need to start listing it out; instead, recognize that your customer also has a left-hand column. They have a list of assumptions and conclusions that you would perceive as inaccurate.

Even though you may feel like it’s your customer’s fault that you’re frustrated, it’s important to take a position of unconditional responsibility, a term used by Fred Kofman. I like to describe this with the phrase, “If you’re impacted by a problem, then you’re part of the problem.”

You and your customer both have left-hand columns that are different and inaccurate. Both you and your customer are responsible for having  filled information voids with negative assumptions. In order to clarify misunderstandings, you need to have a conversation with the customer that aims to fill these voids with facts, instead of assumptions.

Schedule a time to speak with your customer and ask them to revisit their goals (even if you’ve discussed them before) and what they perceive is blocking them from achieving these goals. Then, you can share your related goals and the barriers to reaching these goals.  

This conversation is not an opportunity for each of you to share your left-hand column. Instead, it’s an opportunity for each of you to share information that will replace the assumptions that are listed in your left-hand column.

These types of conversations take courage and humility to schedule and hold. The good news is that overcoming these types of challenges can help to strengthen the relationship and put you in a better position than you were in before the frustrating conversation occurred.

In the future, perhaps you can recognize the opportunity at hand when you have a frustrating customer conversation. By using this left-hand and right-hand column exercise to acknowledge your assumptions and pursue clarification you can actually improve your customer relationship.

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