Hard conversations are just that, hard. I find it is human nature to put our heads in the sand and avoid them thinking maybe they will go away or that I’ll deal with it later. They don’t go away, instead they fester, get worse and often times cause more damage.
Recently at my company, we have been researching insurance brokers. We have been with the same one for more than a decade and I feel they have become complacent. Five weeks ago they were made aware that we were talking to other brokers. They did not call us to discuss any concerns, dissatisfaction, or ask what they could do differently. We held the assessment that we could get a better value for the cost elsewhere and have grounding for that. Now that we have made the decision to change, they want to know why. Now, it’s really too late. This morning we finally talked about the concerns. I didn’t ask him why he did not ask for our feedback earlier, so I am only guessing, but my strong feeling is that they did not want to hear what they suspected.
Here is how the conversation could have gone between our broker, I will call him Brian, and myself.
Brian said, “Paulette, I understand that you are looking at other brokers. I am very concerned about that. Your business is important to me. Can you tell me what you are dissatisfied with?”
Paulette replied, “In an effort to provide the best possible benefit to our people, we have decided to look closely at our options. We feel we received insufficient value last year. Your service was fine, but you don’t offer an on-line portal and the options you have shown us are not innovative and diverse enough.”
In the example above, my assessment is “we feel we received insufficient value.” I then grounded that assessment by telling them that they don’t have an on-line portal and their options are not innovative and diverse. To ground an assessment you are giving them more information about why you hold that opinion. You can use examples, concerns, standards, domain, and time frame to make yourself clear.
Now Brian has something useful to work with. He can try to change my assessment. When someone offers a concern too late or sugar coats it, a disservice is done. When we repress our dissatisfactions, resentment grows and can blow up. Then more damage is done. Instead of worrying that you will hurt someone’s feelings or upset them, consider what a gift a negative assessment can be. I know these conversations are hard but not having them is even harder.
I believe it was David Neenan who said, “Unspoken negative assessments can ruin careers.” I agree with that. Telling others what you are dissatisfied with whether it be their performance, price, design, or service, is the best thing you can do for someone. When we don’t know what we are doing, or not doing, which is causing the negative assessment, we cannot change. By letting someone know why we are dissatisfied and giving them a chance to improve, we give them the opportunity to be successful. When we don’t, careers can be ruined.