I agreed to do a radio interview about challenges that small businesses face. Only, when the hosts called a few minutes prior to the live interview, I knew I had probably made a mistake. They were throwing out a few F-bombs, trying to sound like shock-jocks and clearly knew nothing about my new book or business, which was why they invited me on their show. I realized it was their shtick and given we teach people how to turn communications to their advantage, I was confident, perhaps over-confident, that I could handle it.
It started out well. I interjected tips to become a more compelling communicator, specifics for small businesses and provided examples that I knew listeners would relate to. Then, one of the hosts asked: “what is the biggest challenge in your business”?
I replied that the challenge for all businesses, large or small is to stay current and relevant. Specifically, I explained, as technology changes by the second, it’s tough to keep on top of everything. I said that’s why it’s important for business owners to have partners and reach out to others who can help.
That’s when she said: “So, what I hear you saying is that you don’t feel relevant anymore.” What? Did I say that or was she putting words in my mouth? Rather than appear defensive, argumentative or repeat her negatives, I responded like this.
“We pride ourselves on being relevant because we work hard at staying current and constantly reinventing ourselves, challenging ourselves so we are the best we can be for our clients.” I reiterated that it is critical to stay on top of change and look for new ways to address client challenges. I said, “We are constantly creating new content, materials and how-to-videos to stay current.”
That’s when she said she’d like to offer me advice about my business. I am always open to advice and learning something new, but I was a little leery to accept it from a radio host who put words in my mouth and I wasn’t sure even knew what we did. However, I was on live radio so I said “sure”.
She told me that I should hire young people right out of college and have each one of them shadow the coaches who work for me. Considering our coaches have extensive communications experience, multiple awards and provide communication guidance to senior executives, I wasn’t sure why she was offering this suggestion.
She said the young people could learn from the experienced people and say what they say. I explained that knowing what advice and guidance to provide comes from experience, not following a script or repeating someone else’s words. Then she suggested they could improve our social media footprint to which I said, “We’re very active on social media. Is there something you observed that we can do better?” She hadn’t visited any of our social media channels but said she was offering this advice because “You said you didn’t feel relevant”.
I wanted to blast her and hang up, but that would have become the focus of the story and I would have appeared argumentative. Instead I said “Please don’t put words in my mouth. That’s what you said, not what I said”. She started to interrupt and this time I cut her off. It went something like this.
“You invited me on your show to discuss the challenges that small businesses face and based on running my firm for two decades, you asked me to provide solutions that may be helpful for your listeners. Instead, you are twisting my words, offering your own advice when you seem to have no real understanding of our business and I clearly made a mistake accepting your invitation. So, we can end the interview now or you can allow me to speak to the challenges of your listeners.”
There was silence and more silence until she said, “Oh sure, go ahead”.
Assuming you know how someone else feels or what they think can backfire on you especially if that someone calls you on it. Sometimes, it’s not even what the person is saying, but rather how they are saying it. What if she had asked, “Do you ever feel irrelevant?” Or what if she had said, “Have you had specific experience that made you feel less relevant and what did you do about it?” That takes someone off the defensive and they will likely respond less defensively. Assuming how someone else is feeling and projecting your words onto them will shut down any communication.
In an article about divorce published in Psychology Today, author Michele Weiner Davis says, “The words we choose can mean the difference between loving, constructive conversations.” She says, “It’s important to say what you want to say in a way that someone else can hear you and not become defensive.” Even if the person thinks you are over-reacting to what was said, she advises backing up a step or two and trying again, using different words.
The same is true in business. Asking questions prompts two-way conversations and indicates you are truly interested in someone else’s opinion.
Eventually I did discuss the challenges I believe small businesses face. Here are my top three:
Keeping up with technology, having the right systems in place to prevent breaches and having the right tools available to market and grow your business remains a top challenge. Making the right choices and having the right partners is critical.
- IMPROVING CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Improving customer experience and staying current to keep your customers is key. That means launching new products, creating new content and being open to change to deepen existing relationships and create new ones.
- ATTRACTING NEW TALENT
Looking for ways to attract people with skills that can contribute to the business and be a good match for clients. It’s also important to make sure those who have worked with you for a long time continue to feel valued and appreciated.
When the interview was over, surprisingly, the host said, “That was a great interview, thanks for the advice.” Trying to be gracious, I thanked her in return. The interview wasn’t great because of me. It was great because she stopped talking, started listening and stopped trying to assume what someone else was thinking.
We had a real conversation that was focused on helping her listeners.