Friday, July 30, 2010

Speak Easy Note #30 - Saying No to a Major Client

Dear Wordsmith,

Over the last year - and through my introduction, my firm has developed a strong business relationship with a major media corporation, delivering multi-million-dollars in services. I have been the account manager and have overseen all aspects of the delivery of the work with this client. The standard fees of my firm are on the high side and I have worked really hard to give this client a good break on the fee structuring. Because of the size and prominence of the client as well as the large volume of business, my firm has been more than happy to adjust our fees. The problem is that no matter how many times, we make readjustments in the fee structure and renegotiate the pricing for our services, the client comes back and asks for further fee-discounting for our work.

I am beginning to feel like an unprofessional pushover and am also becoming extremely angry at the client with whom I have had a great relationship. I know, too, that we are very close to the bone now and there really is no further discounting possible. Please help me tackle this big challenge. I have never been in a situation quite like this before.

Challenged Marketing Professional


Dear Challenged,

It sounds like you've bent over backwards to satisfy this customer and because of this your anger is becoming extreme and will continue to strengthen if you are unable to find a way to master this situation gracefully and firmly.

Let’s look at the many facets of this current juncture and see how many excellent communication strategies you can adapt and apply.

First, it’s important to look at the view you have of this situation to see if there are beneficial adjustments you can make in how you're seeing this. Even though you haven’t experienced this type of phenomenon with other clients, this actually is a natural progression of dynamics and behaviors which you have contributed to by already having provided this client with special discounts. If we think of human nature and what occurs when we, as authority figures or parents, give special privileges or rewards to our children, the same type of behavior occurs. Rather than think in terms of "enough” or “simple satisfied appreciation” – a child often will think in terms of “How much more can I get?” or “This works so well, I will try it again.”

It is up to each of us
#1) to adjust our perspective of the request,
#2) monitor the tone and attitude we exhibit when we respond, and
#3) make sure we pleasantly and respectfully clarify exactly what our solid response is to the request being made.

Here are a number of good approaches and communication strategies to select from.

- Always acknowledge what the client wants appreciatively: “I understand and have clearly heard your request for xxxxxxx, xxx and xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. I recognize how important this is to you.”

- Whatever the request is, think of it as legitimate. That’s very different from feeling like you have to give in or acquiesce. It’s a matter of seeing the request as being what the client wants rather than seeing it as something you are being pressured to provide.

- Outline without attitude or tone all of the discounts and special customer support services you have already provided to date. This can be presented in written form if you like.

- Make sure you omit the word “but” from your response thus disclaiming whatever you’ve acknowledged in any of your prior comments or presentation to the client. The word “and” works very nicely to replace “but” in these types of communications. Or, you can just end one thought with a “period/full stop” and then start the next sentence.

- Look for ways to provide a wide range of customer services that are outside of the fee structure altogether. Example: 24/7 on-call hotline response to phone calls and email.

- Outline and assure the client of additional elements included in the fees that demonstrate how much more your firm is providing that other firms and services don’t or can’t deliver.

- Clarify and present fees and fee-services with pride and without apology.

- Be clear. Be firm. Be respectful. Be pleasant.

In SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success there is much that could be very helpful to you right now. Reading Chapter 8, "Refusing the Right Way" will be especially beneficial.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Speak Easy Note #29 - Stop Asking for Permission!

Dear Wordsmith,

I have recently been promoted to a managerial position and am having a very hard time getting the respect and buy-in from the people who work for me. It is so strange because I have worked with these same people for a long time and we have always worked together very smoothly. I would say we are all good friends. We socialize together a lot outside of work. It’s very hard for me to be the boss and I don’t want to lose these great friends of mine. I like my job a lot and want to be a great manager. I know I have to be in charge now and am starting to feel like the worst boss in the world. To make it harder for me, everyone loved our old boss so much and she is still a good friend to everyone in our group, as she was when she was the boss.

I try to be very careful about how I speak to people. I will always say that I need people’s help. I often ask people if they are okay doing whatever assignment I am giving them. I see that I start my requests with things like, “Would you mind doing …” and I realize that I have started to apologize to people all the time whenever I have to ask them to do something. I know I need to readjust what I am saying to everybody, I just don’t know how to do this. Please help!

Worried Boss and Concerned Friend


Dear Worried and Concerned,

These are such natural communication dynamics that you are describing. It is a big challenge to become the boss of people who have been your peers, especially when you have strong friendships with the people you will be managing. It sounds like your style of communication is the main challenge since jealousy from your teammates about your promotion was not part of the description you shared in you request for help. There can always be some envy when one person gets promoted and others don’t. Usually though, the selection of leaders is based on their ability to lead and the strong belief that others will respect their authority and expertise. It is possible you are the one who is concerned about jealousy since these people have been your friends and equals up till now. Being a good manager is about earning respect and motivating people to do their jobs well. It is not about winning a popularity contest.

So often people become managers without any development or training on how to do that. Asserting authority in an inspirational way and providing a work environment that engenders teamwork and mutual respect is a quite different goal from being a good sales person or developing the best work product possible. If your company provides coaches, mentors or training and development coursework, make sure you take advantage of these. It sounds like your old boss would be a great mentor – and friend – to help you in your new role.

Most of all, I would encourage you to work on making adjustments in your communication. It sounds like the biggest element of that would be based on making sure your communication is direct and level rather than subservient and supplicating. Apologies are for instances when you have made a mistake or done something wrong and are the last type of communication to use when you are in a position of authority and leadership. There are numerous sections of SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success that could be very helpful to you. Here is a selection from SPEAK EASY that is exactly relevant to the description you have given.

Subservience Is For Puppy Dogs

Margaret is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning for an international financial services firm. She’s loved by everyone in her firm and always looks for ways to make people’s lives easier and better.

Margaret frequently works longer hours than her colleagues and the people who work for her. She rarely takes all of the vacation she’s entitled to annually. Margaret is seen as indispensable. She’s known for never saying no to anyone’s requests no matter how high or low their position in the organization or in which department they work. She solicits input from others without asserting her views. She asks permission rather than states her goals and desires. She apologizes frequently without having committed offenses.

Everyone adores her sense of humor and good nature. Because of her dedication, loyalty, friendliness and availability to all, it’s difficult to criticize Margaret. Yet, for some reason, Margaret is ill at ease in her workplace. She sees that others often take advantage of her and frequently her super heroic efforts aren’t even appreciated. She feels that she lacks an executive presence. Even though she’s quite happy in her current role and seeks no higher position, she’d still liked to be respected and appreciated on a different level than she senses currently exists. She’d also like to remain as dedicated without feeling frequently so exhausted, and at times being burnt-out.

What’s going on here is simple. Margaret sees herself below others. She always puts her views second even when hers is the voice of authority. Her wonderful qualities that are admired and respected become warped by the fact that she never sees herself as equal or entitled. She’s always trying to gain approval rather than focus on contributing her expertise. She’s reticent to take credit. The most astonishing and positive element of all of this is that Margaret is highly confident and passionate about both her work and her level of expertise. She knows how smart she is and knows how much she has to contribute. She provides us with an excellent representative example of the negative results of subservient communication.

Margaret wants to make changes in how she communicates and how she is being perceived, without giving up her level of dedication to her job and without diminishing her most important goal. Margaret likes to help others most of all.

The first objective is for Margaret to become self-aware, to see that her communication often has the opposite impact from the one she would most like. The second step is for Margaret to gain new ways to communicate in an equal two-way manner that feels authentic to her, to who she is, and to the values she holds dear.

Instead of saying in an unsure tone and self-demeaning manner,

“I don’t know if you might want to try this or not.”

Margaret can say with confidence,

“Here’s what I see as a good solution to this situation.”

Instead of approaching a person who reports directly to her, in a childlike, supplicating way,

“I’m so sorry and feel I have to apologize to you for the technology department who did not run our numbers and complete our report for us. I hope you aren’t upset by my asking you to do this work manually and get the report ready for our meeting tomorrow morning. I’m so sorry that I have to ask you at the last minute. I feel so bad about your being loaded up with extra work today.”

Margaret can make the same request to this person who works for her, in a level, authoritative, mutually respectful tone:

“Since technology didn’t run our numbers for us, I’m asking you to complete the report we need for tomorrow’s meeting manually. This was totally unexpected, so it’s absolutely fine for you to shift your other priorities to make this happen. I appreciate whatever juggling is required to get this done and want you to know that I recognize the need for that. Let me know if this change in your day affects other people and I’ll speak to them about what I’ve requested you to do today. Again, thank you very much for doing this.”

Subtle differences in tone and words can make a big difference in how we feel about ourselves and our work and most of all in the way people perceive us.

Here is the link to a wonderful article, Leadership That Gets Results by Daniel Goleman from The Harvard Business Review, that will also contribute to your leadership style and success as you move forward in this and other leadership roles.

Until next time,

The Wordsmith