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Last updated on 5/12/22

Define an Operating Framework for Your Relationships

Learn to Say “That’s Enough”

Earlier on, you saw how to manage certain challenging situations in the workplace:

  • How to deal with difficult situations in the heat of the moment when a contact makes an objection. 

  • How to deal with difficult situations retroactively through feedback. 

Despite this, situations can still arise where you have to know how to say “no,” or “that’s enough” and adapt or even introduce a new framework for your working relationship.

Consider the following:

  • Knowing how to say no makes you seem credible in the eyes of your business contacts: it’s best to say "no" first and then "yes" later.

  • Knowing how to say "no" helps you save time and be more efficient: it makes your “yes” more of a precious commodity.

  • Above all, saying "no" means that you can set out a new framework for your relationship. Often, people don’t have a framework for operating as part of their professional relationships. 

Why is it so important to set up such a framework, especially when the relationship is beginning to break down?

With most of your contacts in the workplace, you won’t really need to set out a formal framework for your relationship. But, as you saw in the first part of this course, each person has their own way of seeing the world and their own interpretation of things.

For example, it may be clear to most of your business contacts that they shouldn’t call you after 10 p.m. on your personal phone (you had to give them the number once because your work phone was broken or because you don’t have a work phone), but some people will not hesitate to do so.

Some people may see nothing wrong with this - unless the person works in the same company as you and you have clearly defined rules about business calls outside of working hours - but most of us would say that we couldn’t have a working relationship like that in the long term, we’d have to change it.

Here’s another example of this from Fabrice Daverio, the commercial director of the Abilways Group:

Knowing how to stand up for yourself is essential in customer service.

A while back one of our biggest clients was behaving badly: he decided to scale down our contracts after having already signed them, he was asking us to a lot of work on projects in advance with no guarantee of him signing the contract and he wasn’t listening to our recommendations but he did blame us whenever things went wrong. One day, when defending our proposal for the millionth time, he started to behave inappropriately once again and I said, “we’re going to have to stop here. We can’t carry on working with you if it’s going to be like this. As long as this is the framework for our relationship there’s nothing either you or us will be able to get out of this.” I took a gamble doing this and after a (rather long) minute of silent contemplation the client who was facilitating the meeting almost apologized to us and said that it was indeed important that we set up a new framework for our working relationship.

What I took from this was that sometimes you have to take the risk of asking your internal or external clients if you can rethink your working relationship.”

Define an Operating Framework

There are two different types of situations: In the first type, there is no framework, no clear rules for how you are going to work together (such as when a client calls you at 2 a.m.). In the second type, you have a framework for your working relationship but it’s not being respected (such as if your contact asks you to attend a lot more meetings than initially planned for the project).

Situation 1: You Must Create the Framework From Scratch

Firstly, it is important to put the relationship on hold, as in the example above. You could say something like, “We can’t carry on working like this,” and suggest you schedule a meeting to work on a clear framework for your future working relationship. You would obviously have to prepare for such a meeting, and I’d encourage you to work on the following points: 

  • Ensure your business contact is given a warm welcome to the meeting, helping to make them feel comfortable. Small details could make a big difference. Ask them if they want anything to drink, how they’re doing, etc. At this point, you could also outline how important this meeting is to you.

  • Be direct in your proposal. Outline the issue and your request, backing your point up with concrete examples (calls at 2 a.m., etc.). Most importantly be firm and clear in your message.

  • Suggest that the two of you come to an agreement on the framework for your future relationship. Do they agree in principle with your ideas? If necessary, you can ask for their ideas on how to implement the new framework (if so, listen to their proposal and then add in ideas of your own). It is, once again, important that you prepare your proposals in advance, but this does not mean that the other person’s ideas aren’t valid too!

  • If necessary, get a written confirmation of your agreement by email. Thus the framework will be set in stone and you’ll have a document to refer to if you ever need to remind the person in the future of what you agreed. 

Situation 2: The Framework Already Exists

If you already have a framework for your working relationship but your contact is breaking these rules, then it is important to point this out to them in a clear manner.

  1. Ensure the other person is comfortable - I know I keep going on about this, but starting a meeting off with a smile and a cup of coffee can really make a big difference. At this point, you should also outline how important this meeting is to you.

  2. Refer to the framework you currently have in place (for example: “We said we’d hold X meetings per month and that they’d last for X hours.”) and ensure that the other person agrees that this is the current understanding by using a closed question (“Do you agree with me then that…?”).

  3. Explain how the other person has overstepped the current framework by outlining the difference between their current behavior and the rules you previously agreed upon (or that are detailed in the contract if the contact is an external client). Give specifics.

  4. Ask the person questions: If they need any help in getting back to a situation where they can abide by the rules, if they believe the current rules are still relevant or not, and what they think has led to this situation.

  5. Ask for a commitment from the other person: "Are we now ready to move on now and to follow the rules?"

  6. Similar to the previous situation of creating the framework from scratch, you should still get written confirmation of your agreement by sending an email, to sum up what you discussed during the meeting.

To conclude, if you’re the victim or witness of an uncomfortable situation in the workplace with either a colleague or a client, then you should use the following steps for taking action:

  1. First, you should give them feedback (on one or several occasions).

  2. If the feedback hasn’t helped improve the situation, you should work together to implement new rules.

  3. If these rules are not respected, you can help the person to get back to a situation where the working relationship works for both of you.

If after all this, you still can’t work with the person, then you should ask your manager to make a decision on this (to change your contact person for example) or, maybe, to put an end to this fruitless, time-consuming business relationship (it’s sad, but it does happen sometimes).

Over to You Now!

First of all, choose one or several contacts for whom you need to rethink your working relationship and fill out the table in your workbook with the following: your proposal, explanation (in just three points), and questions.

Ready, steady, go!

Let's Recap!

  • Knowing how to say “no” or “that’s enough” to a working relationship that’s not working anymore enables you to save time and energy, and helps improve your credibility.

  • It is sometimes important to flag dysfunctional behaviors and to create a new, viable framework for your working relationship.

  • Sometimes you have to know how to stop working with a business contact if the relationship isn’t working despite your best efforts to turn things around (this doesn’t happen often).

We’re at the end of this part of the course where we’ve sailed the stormy seas of difficult workplace situations which make being service-minded a bit of a challenge! On to the next chapter: the conclusion!

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