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What to Say When Something Goes Wrong

What to Say When Something Goes Wrong

One of the most challenging parts of running a successful company is dealing with conflicts.  We are in a people business which means that conflicts are inevitable.  Because most people simply don’t like dealing with unpleasant issues – issues that could potentially mean loss of business or tension in the office —  a common response is to ignore it and hope it will go away!  Experts say that this is exactly the wrong approach. They recommend an immediate response which clears the air and keeps relationships moving productively.

How you handle conflict makes has a major impact on the overall health and productivity of your company. Handle it correctly and your company thrives. Handle it poorly and it can fall apart.

Here are some tips for handling conflict effectively:


Maintain personal ownership of the problem.

Keep the initiation mild, not threatening. Don’t say, “You do X and it’s wrong!” Instead, start the conversation with a request for help. “Bill, do you have a few minutes? I have a problem that I’d like to discuss with you.” Indicating that it’s your problem helps diffuse any defensiveness – a common barrier!

Use the X-Y-Z Approach to stating a problem

“I have a problem. When you do X (a very specific behavior), Y results (consequences), and I feel Z (emotion).”

Here’s an example:  “Bob, I have a problem. When you don’t show up on time at the client’s house . . . they get rightfully angry since they were expecting you. This makes me feel very frustrated because we try so hard to deliver top customer service. “ Then simply wait for the response.

Don’t make accusations

Stick with the observable behavior.  Don’t supply solutions. The first step is to agree that there is a problem. If you jump to a solution, you’re assuming that you know what’s going on in their heads and you don’t.  So wait until they acknowledge the problem and then work on a solution together.

Persist until understood

If you state a problem and they don’t want to listen, don’t understand, or try to change the subject, go back at it again in a different way, still sticking with the XYZ approach.

Encourage two way discussion

Ask them for input and their view of the issue.

Keep the initial comment short

A rule of thumb is that the longer it takes you to tell them about the problem, the longer it’ll take you to work through it. When someone keeps going on and going on about something, we get defensive and once someone gets defensive, they stop listening and begin to think of a rebuttal making it very difficult to develop a productive solution.

Have the guts to start the conversation!

If an employee or trade contractor continually takes actions that are upsetting, bring it up immediately.  Remember, they can’t read your mind so slamming doors and dirty looks aren’t getting the message across. Chances are they are totally oblivious to your frustration.  Plus, if you don’t say anything when rules are broken, what do you think  your other employees are thinking? They’re saying, “Why is Joe getting away with that?” Bringing up issues is may not be easy but speak up early before you are so mad that you’re ready to blow.  And remember the tips above to help you through it.


The more you practice effective conflict resolution the better you will become! This is a managerial behavior that can be learned and the more we learn, the more our customers, employees and subs will appreciate us!

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