5 Tricks To Repair A Bad Business Relationship

The ability to repair suffering relationships is a vital business skill. Cultivating emotional intelligence and control will give you a competitive edge in the negotiation and empower you to be effective under pressure.

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1. The Late-Night FM DJ Voice To The Rescue

When things are rocky, it’s easy to get derailed yourself.  You may even be faced with repairing a relationship that somebody else has muddied. However you got here, you’re likely to need to put the brakes on your own reactions.  In your mental rehearsals for the interaction, imagine yourself using the the soothing, downward inflecting “Late-Night FM DJ Voice”. The crazy thing about the use of this voice, is that in not only calms them down, it automatically calms you down when you use it and helps you sooth the entire situation.

2. Be Preemptive By Labeling Their Negative Reactions

Prepare for a hard conversation by anticipating your counterpart’s negative overreactions and creating labels to defuse them preemptively. How might they unfairly overreact to their account switching hands in the midst of a tense situation? What might they wrongly assume about you coming in?  Think of everything your gut instincts are sensing you might need to deny, and then instead of denying them, simply label them. Labeling these negatives in no way, shape, or form means accepting responsibility or that they’re even true; it simply means addressing the elephant in the room. The negative label, “I’m sure it looks like we’re all over the place here,” anticipates a perceived negative and drains it of its power. If your associates didn’t make a good first impression, a label like “it may seem like we’re the biggest bunch of jerks you’ve ever encountered,” acknowledges their point of view without assigning responsibility. Remember, if you label negative reactions that aren’t there, you don’t create them, you actually inoculate yourself from them.  As you approach the negotiation table, use a quick cold read and accusation audit to get ahead of things. Doing so will reduce their impact and help you nurture a great environment.  

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3. Know How to Buy Time With A Mirror

If the heat of the moment when you’re being yelled at, it’s difficult to control your emotions, and even more challenging to think. In those instances, if you find yourself freezing up, a mirror can be your best friend. Mirroring—or repeating back the last one to three words that your counterpart has said using upward inflection at the end (like asking a question) — is a great way to regain your balance and buy time. Because mirroring doesn’t take much brain power, it will give you a moment to process new information and come up with strategic labels and calibrated questions.

4. Double-down On The Tactical Empathy

If you’ve laid on the empathy and are still met with silence, what you’re really being told is that you’re on the right track, you just need to go farther.  One of our main guidelines here is, “If you don’t feel like you’re laying it on thick, you’re not laying it on thick enough.” By using tactical empathy to demonstrate an understanding of the person’s perspective, it’s possible to provide a sense of accountability without assigning responsibility.  Use labels that relate to their core issues and speak to the future in order to change the dynamic of the conversation. Changing the beginning of a label in this context from “You seem…” to “I know…” can be appropriate.  Labels like “I know you want to make good decisions for your company” and “I know you’re concerned about forming long-term relationships,” can strengthen their confidence in you. Be fearless with your use of tactical empathy and that is how you will come off: fearless.  

5. Ask Calibrated Questions

You may need to follow up with a calibrated question.  Asking “What?” and “How?” questions gives your counterpart the opportunity to speak to the problem at hand and provides them with a sense of control. It also gives you the chance to learn about their core drivers and enlist their help in working toward a solution. A simple and straightforward question like “How do you want to proceed?” or “How do you think we should fix this?” can absorb the energy of an attack and shift the focus back to them. As you prepare calibrated questions prior to the negotiation, remember that every question has a flip-side label that can accomplish the same thing. For example, the question, “How do you want to fix this?” can be turned into the label, “It seems like you have an idea of how to fix this.” As you grow more familiar with these communication techniques, it becomes easier to transform questions into negative and positive labels (and vice versa) and adapt in the moment without losing focus.

When you’re negotiating with a hostile party, it pays to know what communication skills and techniques will help you get what you want. But true flexibility under pressure demands consistent low-stakes practice. The most effective negotiators are those that continue to look for ways they can improve and maintain their negotiation super-powers!  

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