4 Steps To Repair That Lost Partnership Or Damaged Relationship

Many years ago, at the end of a long day, I had a client interested in our conversation and preparing to acquire my product. I was sensing he was interested and I kept on pressing for commitment and action. That was not a good decision. He fairly abruptly stopped talking, seemed to stop listening, looked down, rubbed his head and said, “I think we’re done here, thanks. I need to go.” He stood up and left his office. I sat there alone, dumbfounded, and surrounded by silence – that kind of a painful, powerful, learning-lesson quiet.

We all have missteps where we overpromise and under-deliver, didn’t involve all the right people in key decisions, made incorrect statements, reacted emotionally or poorly to minor issues, fell totally silent in the midst of aggravation, or flew off the handle – should I keep going? Relationships can quickly go south.

If we make negotiations and value proposition conversations too comfortable, nothing happens. If we make the environment too toxic, nothing happens. As we try to stay even keeled in important conversations, we may lean into action too hard, versus keeping things too safe. It’s OK. Better to give it too much gas in an effort to drive growth, change, and positive results, than to always lean away to ensure no account gets mad. It is akin to race car drivers going slow so they don’t get into a wreck.

Here are 4 steps to move from Flat tire to Road Ready! (Turn that frown upside down)

1. Think

Revisit the situation and think. So often we jump to fix things by making statements and we may, in fact, be makes things worse. In the situation I described above, I realized I wasn’t listening. I had to really reflect to understand where my body language and comments were too self-centered, and where I wasn’t being respectful and observant of my customer’s words and tone. The chance to reflect became valuable for my growth and success on this and other accounts. As we learn from our missteps we can prepare plans for us to improve. Improvement, progress, and learning are all viewed as more powerful actions than urgently jumping in to fix a  sensitive situation.

2. Accept

We screwed up. Michael Jordan, for all his success, stated he lost 26 games for his team, because he missed the last shot. When questioned about the exactness of his ‘lost 26 games’ statement, MJ said “Yeah, something like that” Don’t dwell on the error – we need to let ourselves off the hook. If we overly fret about the error, we hurt our ability to move forward given the skills, talents, and gifts we have to be great. We minimize our own success, through wrongful worry.

3. Own

“That darn customer”……….”They never”………… are the misstatements to improving the relationship. Ever see the sports player screw up a play, and then stand-up, and tap their chest with their hand, as if to say “It’s me – My Bad”? Other teammates accept it and move on easily, because we all screw up. It’s Me – I screwed up. My Bad.

If we never screw up or fail, we never tried for something more.

4. Apologize with no other goal

It took me six weeks to get another appointment with the client I mentioned above. Then I simply and clearly revisited our last meeting. I acknowledged my poor behavior and accepted his fierce glare and stern face. Acknowledging what I learned and the plans I made to be more prepared and professional in the future, I prepared to leave. My goal was only to announce my disappointment in myself and apologize – that was it. An apology that is leveraged as a chance to get more business, is a compounding offense since the apology then looks like a gateway for personal gain.  

An apology that is exploited for gain, is of no value.

I stood to leave and he started to speak – I thought – “Ok, here we go, I’m back in the game.” And he said with a smile, “Thank-you very much and have a nice day.” He left. I didn’t get the chance to build a better partnership. I left and that opportunity was gone. No happy ending on this one – rather a happy learning moment. I learned a valuable lesson. I was proud of my actions – not expecting anything, just doing the right thing and I went on to other challenges. Doing the right thing doesn’t always lead to a reward, but do it anyway!

How does patching things up work?

In this example, the results were a learning but not a sale. I have learned over the years that this formula works in coaching, selling, friendships, and marriages. In the end, some relationships will be impossible to repair after damage has been done. And if your business depends on strong, trusting relationships (which mine certainly does) we have to repair mistakes to the best of our abilities, and this goes beyond just making your client happier. Know you are doing the right thing by your own introspection. That’s valuable. If others still don’t like it, or understand but we can look ourselves in the mirror and know that we did all we could to mend the fence, then move on – it becomes their issue.

Bonus Comment:  Using this situation in an Interview

I used to ask interview candidates, “Have you ever had a client walk away from you, or ask you to leave their office?” And proudly they proclaim, “No never.” Then I might ask, “Why might I believe it is Ok, if once in a career, you may have extended yourself too much into a result and the error resulted in your client walking away or asking you to walk away?” And the discussion turns from pressing a situation because you want a bonus, or personal reward, to rather fighting a good fight for organization or team goals, patient care, elder happiness, or child growth. Strongly advocating a position in the best interest of a larger goal, may result in pressing too much. All great progress starts from someone’s determination, even if someone else gets upset. See Rosa Parks actions for details.

Losing a client, a sale, or a friendship may be the price for promoting or defending something that feels extremely right and just. If we argue from a place of our own wants, that is less noble. If we are defending the rights of someone else who needs us – that’s strong.

Paul Revere was an American Hero. He was also was a British Traitor and Tax Cheat!

Wanna be a better business person? Be a better Person.


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