Tough Talk

Keep your cool and be heard in even the toughest conversations.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the February 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We've all had those moments--when you have to say something to a client, vendor or employee that's just not easy. From confronting someone about a missed product shipment to dealing with an angry customer, difficult conversations are sometimes necessary. We went to Barbara Pachter, author of The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Know to Handle Conflicts at Work, Home, and in Life, for advice.

  • Don't attack them, says Pachter-"WAC'em." That's an acronym she coined to help defuse situations like this. The W stands for what's really bothering you? Define the problem. The A stands for ask: What do you want to ask the other person to do or change? And the C stands for check in: Say, "OK, John?" and open it up to the other person. The WAC method, says Pachter, "really forces you to clarify what the issues are and what's going to solve the problem for you."
  • Do be both polite and powerful. There's a balance to strive for. "If you're just polite, you can get walked on, and if you're just powerful, it can be aggressive," she says. "When you remember to be both, you're more apt to have a positive confrontation and a positive resolution."
  • Don't get defensive--listen. "We have a tendency to jump in and start making excuses," says Pachter. Let the person say his or her piece, then ask probing questions to get information and clarification on the problem: Say, "Help me to understand what you mean."
  • Do watch your tone and body language. Don't use any aggressive gestures like pointing or pounding on a desk, and always look the person in the eye. Speak calmly, and don't over-smile or erupt in nervous laughter, as it will strain your credibility.
  • Don't go in unprepared. If you don't have all the information--if you haven't previously done your fact-finding--you'll be less able to discuss the situation and come to a reasonable solution to the problem.
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