How to Address Problems Directly Without Being a Jerk
Five tips to confronting problems, not people.
The world of entrepreneurship has no room for passive aggression or beating around the bush. As a business owner, you’ll save time, money and a whole lot of stress by being direct with other people. But, there’s a difference between being direct and being rude, and it all comes down to technique. Here are five tips to walking the line without crossing it.
1. Don’t make assumptions.
It’s impossible to know everything about a person. The business partner who comes across as lazy or disconnected may be going through a rough patch in their personal life. The employee who seems unskilled or careless may not have had the training you would’ve liked them to have. The same thing goes for businesses and organizations -- if they don't work with you the way you’d like, there might be a reason you can't see. Before you confront someone about an issue, then, make sure you have all the facts.
2. Make sure your conversation serves a purpose.
Will what you’re saying actually be useful or will it just ruffle some feathers? Whether you’re hoping to solve a conflict or discuss future plans with someone, you should have a tangible goal in mind. Are you increasing an employee’s turnout, signing a sponsorship deal or bringing on a new business partner? Getting a rise out of someone or proving a point isn’t a productive goal.
3. Plan out what you’re going to say.
When it comes to being direct with someone, wording is everything. How you phrase your concerns can effect whether the other party ends up angry, offended, sympathetic or willing to help. For this reason, you should take a bit of time to plan out what you’re going to say before you actually say it. You don’t want to overprepare -- conversations don’t always go the way you think they will -- but a bit of consideration goes a long way. The last thing you want is to put someone on the defensive when you need their help in solving an issue.
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4. Address the phenomenon, not the person.
Again, it all comes back to phrasing. Even if your employee is careless and lazy at work, criticizing them instead of their performance will shift the focus away from the problem at hand and tick them off.
For example, instead of saying, “You’ve been slacking a bit at work lately,” say something like, “I’ve noticed that your productivity has decreased over the past few weeks.” Make it clear you're concerned about the effect and how you can correct it, not criticizing the person.
5. Aim for a positive outcome.
It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget the end goal when you’re contemplating how to be direct with someone. By the time you’ve said your part, you should feel confident that you’ve communicated effectively and worked toward a positive outcome. Proposing potential solutions is a great way to maintain this constructive mindset; so is actively listening to the other person’s response and compromising where it’s appropriate. Again, the goal isn’t to prove a point -- it’s to solve a problem.
It’s possible to be direct without being "that person," the process just takes a little extra planning and consideration.
Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.