Published November 6, 2018 | Updated June 03, 2022

We’ve all heard it. Maybe we’ve said it. But should we do business based on it?

Not if your business is built on long-term relationships, which are themselves built on honesty, trust, and mutual respect. The fact is, sometimes those things demand that we differ in our interpretation of a situation.

And that’s okay. Better than okay, actually, because we all get smarter when we’re all willing to learn. But just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable.

When customers say you’re wrong, here are five steps you can take to handle the conversation right:

  1. Listen. Sometimes you have to let them air it all out, and that can be hard, especially when they aren’t stating the facts the way you see them. But you can’t diffuse the situation unless you hear the entire argument. As challenging as it may be, listen thoroughly.
  2. Empathize. Feel their pain. “I understand that you feel as though [then fill in the blank with the summary of the issues you just listened intently to]. I understand and want to help.” Before you say anything else, you will likely feel a calming of the entire situation at this point.
  3. Accept. Believe them. Even if what they are saying doesn’t match the way you see things, believe that they believe in their argument. If they feel you are questioning their integrity, they may push back even more. But if they think you believe in their sincerity, the tension will begin to ease. When they are most upset, they often bring up other issues unrelated to the real issue. By showing some sincerity and acceptance, you might get to the real problem quicker.
  4. Respect. Showing signs of defensiveness or frustration, like not looking them in the eye or interrupting them, leaves customers with the experience that you’re not showing them any respect. In a remote environment, sighing heavily or other audible sounds indicate the same. And those impulses can be especially hard to control but be patient.
  5. Negotiate. If you successfully employ listening, empathizing, accepting, and respecting, you will pave the way for negotiating. You will have put the customer at ease. You will have helped them believe you are in their corner. They will be better prepared to drop their aggression and enter into negotiations, believing that you will treat them with fairness, honesty, and integrity. Finally, always try to resolve a customer’s issue with one conversation. The quicker the issue is resolved, the better the customer will feel about the interaction.

There are dozens of things that could potentially go wrong within a business relationship. But by following a few simple steps, you can diffuse even your most challenging situations – and build stronger relationships in the process.