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Less stress, better results

Ruthless, take-no-prisoners, never-look-back businesspeople are an archetype straight out of central casting.

Most of us aren't like that. Most of us have a healthy concern for how others perceive us. That's a good quality to possess, if only because people who want to be liked tend to be more likable, and likable is good.

But sometimes our need to be perceived in a positive way can negatively impact how we do business.

Do any of the following happen to you?

A customer complains: Your anxiety levels spike, your voice goes up an octave, and the more upset the customer, the more you do to solve the problem -- even past the point of justification. You rationalize to yourself: "Customer satisfaction is the key to my business, plus I can't afford poor word of mouth. And besides, no price is too high to pay to resolve customer complaints..."

A customer asks for a discount: You want to make the sale but you also crave the feeling of validation a sale brings, so you concede more than you should. You rationalize, thinking, "If I hadn't cut the price I might have lost the sale, and after all, some revenue is better than no revenue at all..."

An employee is late -- again: You're uncomfortable with confrontation, plus a different employee was late yesterday and you let that go, so you settle for throwing a few disapproving glances his way. You rationalize to yourself: "Well, he does a pretty good job most of the time, I spent a lot of time training him, and shoot, no customers were waiting so does it really matter that much if he was late again...?"

If any of the above happens to you, don't worry. While we can't change our personalities, we can change our behaviors. Be proactive and eliminate as much judgment as possible from the judgment calls you naturally struggle to make. The better prepared you are to handle a situation where your instinct is to compromise or give in, the easier it will be to remain firm, professional, and still be nice.

The following situations are easy to prepare for:

Customer complaints. An upset customer is tough for anyone to deal with, so think ahead. You know your products and services inside out, so list all the things that could go wrong -- the more possibilities the better. Then decide what you will do in each situation: Repair, replace, rework, refund, discount, discount on future purchases, etc. Rehearse what you will say and do. When you're prepared you won't hem, you won't haw, and you won't give away the store because your stress levels spiked and all you could focus on was escaping a horrible situation. If the customer resists a resolution and keeps asking for more, at some point you may have to say, "I'm sorry, but our policy is to (whatever your policy is) and we simply cannot do any more than that." You can fall back on policies in good conscience when you actually have policies in place.

While you're at it: For each item on your potential problem list, identify ways to eliminate the root causes of those problems. You'll improve operations and eventually need to deal with fewer complaints.

Price negotiations. Haggling over price can be especially tough for service providers. The more you need to be liked the more you're likely to cut your prices. Your self-esteem is at risk and losing a contract feels like a personal rejection and not just a business setback. Make it easier on yourself. Create a detailed price list and think about potential negotiation strategies. Don't just say, "I'm willing to drop the price by 5%." Create discounts based on volume instead or determine ways to reduce service levels so a lower price makes sense. The more options you create, the more likely your negotiations will stay more objective and less personal.

While you're at it: Developing a comprehensive price list, including discounting and negotiation tactics, is a great way to refine pricing strategies. How low can you go and still make a profit? Would a different pricing strategy make the decision to purchase easier for potential customers?

Management decisions. Every employee is different, so great leaders apply judgment and discretion. At the same time, making too many ad hoc decisions can also destroy a work team. Sometimes policies are your best friends, especially in objective areas like attendance, quality, and performance to standards. Determine your expectations, codify your expectations, share your expectations, and manage by those expectations. While it will never be enjoyable, this is fairly easy to say: "John, you know our policy is that no employees are allowed to be absent more than seven times in a rolling twelve-month period. Yesterday was your eighth absence, so I have no choice but to put you on a disciplinary program..." Think about situations that can be "by the book," and write and follow the book. Then use judgment where judgment makes sense.

While you're at it: New employee orientation can be easier, managing employees can be easier, and overall performance can increase when you codify your expectations. Employees who understand expectations usually try to exceed expectations.

Saying no. Refusing a request from colleagues, friends, or family can be really hard. Rarely will saying no go as badly as you fear, though. Most people will understand (and if they don't, should you care too much?) Depending on the situation, "I'm sorry, but I just don't have the time," or, "That's not something I do well; here's someone you might call..." or, "I'm sorry, but we're just not in that market. But I appreciate you thinking of us," all work well.

While you're at it: If you're uncomfortable saying no, remember: It's a great way to have time to get your own work done for a change.

The key is to know what you will do before you are faced with stressful or confrontational situations. Then you can stay objective, make better decisions, and greatly reduce your stress and regret levels.

Jeff Haden

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Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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