What to say when things go wrong?

What to say when things go wrong?

The bad news: Crises happen.

The good news: About 80 percent of the issues and objections that people can throw at you in any given business crisis can be foreseen.

That’s what my experience with many companies, including 3M and Carlson, has taught me: 80 percent of crises result from downsizings, product/service mishaps and all the “what ifs” we constantly fear, but rarely plan for.

A great leader is ready for the inevitable business crisis by having prepared, valid talking points. They also realize the importance of practicing their worst-case scenario responses now so they’re ready when the time comes. When a difficult situation surfaces – and it will – a great leader just has to adapt their existing language to address the problem at hand.

Here are a few common difficult business situations and how to manage them:  

  • Unwarranted refund requests: Put the responsibility of follow-through back on the client with a response like this: “I know it’s difficult to put your confidence in another designer especially when the end product is so important. That’s why I continued making edits beyond my standard two rounds. I want you to be happy with the work I’ve done. However, outside of revising the assets, and because of the discount I already extended, I’m not willing to offer a refund. If you’re open to another round of edits, just let me know.”
  • Skeletons in your closet: Pronounce your turnaround publicly: “Eight years ago, a health issue prompted us to make a difficult financial decision, one that we never anticipated having to make:  bankruptcy. While I cannot say I’m happy that it happened — it was hard on our employees and their families, and I will always regret that — I can tell you the experience, while trying, served as a great lesson in how to manage a business in a worst-case scenario environment. I’m thrilled to report that as a result, we have built a new business that’s not only debt-free but also operating with a surplus.”
  • Difficulty collecting payment: Send a proactive email that says, “You may not be aware that you have an outstanding balance of $1,540.00 which is overdue. I know you will want to get this corrected right away, so I’ll have my operations manager give you a call in the next few days to discuss. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your continued business.”

A helpful hint  . . .

If things are going well for you, take advantage of the moment by thinking ahead. Use this crisis-free time to craft and rehearse the right messages for every imaginable bad-news situation, before you need them. A great leader is always prepared.

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Melissa DeLayRead all author posts