Tips for Managing Critical Conversations: Recapping our Q&A with Charlie Hauck
In addition to helping his clients develop communication skills as the founder of consultancy Growth Dynamics, Charlie Hauck is a former coach, intramural club director, and lacrosse player—so he’s no stranger to navigating tough conversations. We sat down with him to talk about what youth and local organizers can do to approach difficult topics during this uncertain time: whether you’re discussing refunds with your customers, negotiating rent with your landlord, terminating or furloughing employees, or answering questions about returning to play.
It’s OK to say “I don’t know.”
Many leaders believe that they need to have the answers and communicate absolute information, but this isn’t the world we live in. As circumstances change, your story will change too. You’re not weak if you stand in front of your team and say “I would love to give you a more substantial answer, but I don’t have all of the information right now. Here are the steps I’m taking to figure it out.”
Timelines are important.
This is especially true if you’ve just told someone that you don’t know the answer to their question. Every process needs a timeline.
There’s a fine line between being transparent and saying too much.
Just like they say in Law and Order—what you say can and will be used against you! In a heated situation, sometimes it’s best to let silence be your guide.
Say that you’ve decided to refund every family 10% of their payments for the season, and they ask how you got to that number. You could say something like:
“After considering all of the options and costs, we’ve arrived at the decision to refund everyone this amount. We know some of you might be disappointed, but this is the decision we’ve made so that our club can continue to survive.”
Bad news won’t get better with time—and no news is worse than bad news.
The longer you try to create the perfect message, the worse it gets, he says. Time sours the situation instead of softening it. Failure to communicate is worse than communicating bad news. Silence creates doubt and distrust, and often results in people imagining the worst. You need to take control of the narrative before your customers do.
Telling people what to believe is never effective.
People have their own reasons for believing what they believe, and you should never deny anyone the right to their own emotions. If someone is angry, they’re angry. Say they have the right to be angry, and apologize.
Give them permission to disagree.
This is especially true if you’re bringing a strong opinion to the table. It’s easier to meet in the middle when you give someone permission to think differently. You could say something like:
“I might not be right here. I want to hear your point of view—maybe there’s something you’ve thought about that I’ve missed.”
Say the thing that you don’t want to hear.
If there’s something that you hope isn’t going to come up in conversation, you’re better off saying it then letting them say it first.
For example, say you have an angry parent who you think may start to threaten you. A way to disarm them in that situation is to say what you don’t want to hear.
“I know you’re not going to be happy with this situation, and you might choose to make this public and post on social. If you’re that angry I understand. If you think that’s the best thing to do, that’s ok.”
The result? The threat often loses its power.
The best way to win an argument is to lose it.
Arguing is a sign that your ego has gotten in the way, and when this happens, the outcome is rarely successful. “Winning an argument” may be the worst thing that can happen—you never want your customers to feel like they’ve lost.
Ask, ask, ask.
Sometimes the most effective way to arrive at a solution is to ask questions instead of making statements. Instead of telling people why they need to do something, ask them what it will take to make them comfortable with doing it. If you’re dictatorial, people will be less likely to want to cooperate with you.
Don’t be afraid to be unpopular.
Admit that some people will not like the position you take or the answers you have. The sooner you can do this, the sooner you can arrive at a positive outcome.
Looking for more tips like these as you navigate COVID-19 and return to play? Visit events.leagueapps.com to RSVP for future events.