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Tough Talk

Keep your cool and be heard in even the toughest conversations.

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

We've all had those moments--when you have to say somethingto a client, vendor or employee that's just not easy. Fromconfronting someone about a missed product shipment to dealing withan angry customer, difficult conversations are sometimes necessary.We went to BarbaraPachter, author of The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills YouNeed to Know to Handle Conflicts at Work, Home, and inLife, for advice.

  • Don't attack them, saysPachter-"WAC'em." That's an acronym she coined tohelp defuse situations like this. The W stands for what'sreally bothering you? Define the problem. The A stands forask: What do you want to ask the other person to do orchange? 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 issuesare and what's going to solve the problem for you."
  • Do be both polite and powerful. There'sa balance to strive for. "If you're just polite, you canget walked on, and if you're just powerful, it can beaggressive," she says. "When you remember to be both,you're more apt to have a positive confrontation and a positiveresolution."
  • Don't get defensive--listen. "Wehave a tendency to jump in and start making excuses," saysPachter. Let the person say his or her piece, then ask probingquestions to get information and clarification on the problem: Say,"Help me to understand what you mean."
  • Do watch your tone and .Don't use any aggressive gestures like pointing or pounding ona desk, and always look the person in the eye. Speak calmly, anddon't over-smile or erupt in nervous laughter, as it willstrain your credibility.
  • Don't go in unprepared. If youdon't have all the information--if you haven't previouslydone your fact-finding--you'll be less able to discuss thesituation and come to a reasonable solution to the problem.

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