In the working world, your relationships won’t always be perfect. Yes, business is based on human interaction, which can be fluid and easy, but sometimes there can be bumps in the road too.
When discussing being service-minded, you have to deal with the topic of objections. Whether you like it or not, being a service provider means that sooner or later, you’ll have to manage a situation where a customer, client, or colleague (via email, telephone, video call, or face to face) disagrees with your point of view and starts to express their doubts.
What is an objection?
The Cambridge dictionary offers the following definition:
“A reason you give for being against something”
Therefore, an objection is a negative opinion. In the business world, you can be more specific and define it as:
A contradiction that expresses a person’s needs in a negative manner - or which is interpreted in a negative manner.
In such a situation, you must approach your contact and try to understand their needs and why they have chosen to express them in this way. You will be better equipped to serve the other person in the future. You have to keep trying to understand better how your contact perceives things; how they see the world.
Over to You Now!
Let’s do an exercise. Think of the last time you disagreed with someone.
What did the other person object to that was difficult for you to accept?
What did they say?
What tone of voice did they use (anger, contempt, disgust, sadness)?
Recognize Your Natural Reactions
Stop feeling guilty about your reactions.
Before discussing how to deal with objections, it is important to outline certain natural reactions that human beings have when they feel like they’re being attacked:
Flight, Fight, or Freeze.
“If you attack me, then I’ll leave,” or “If you attack me, then I’ll apologize.”
One solution is to leave, apologize, or justify yourself. In other terms, you provide proof of your good intentions and your partial/total innocence to someone who often doesn’t ask for such an explanation.
The problem with justifying your actions, even with good intentions, is that it often leads to a feeling of irritation or rejection by the other person.
For example: “You’re late.”
“Yes, but the train was delayed, so I had to walk further, etc.”
“If you attack me, then I’ll fight back.”
When people feel attacked, they sometimes counter-attack, which can appear as anger, irony, bitterness, or a passive-aggressive tone.
The problem with reacting in this way is that it can quickly escalate in terms of the words and tone of voice used. Such escalation can lead to the issue becoming bigger than it ever needed to be.
For example: “I thought this would be resolved by now!”
“Well, if you want it to be done quicker, then do it yourself!”
“If you attack me, then I’ll sit there and say nothing.”
The final option is not to respond because you can’t stand what is being said or how the person is saying it.
For example: “Who do you take me for?”
[Silence] (A door shuts behind him).
The problem with this approach is that the emotions can build to the point where you struggle to formulate a clear train of thought. It won't help if you release your inner confusion in front of the other person.
It may be useful, however, to learn to manage your emotions differently. While all three of these reactions can sometimes be useful, they’re insufficient for the long term (you can’t spend your life justifying your actions or running away).
Rebalance the Conversation
The goal of managing an objection is often to reestablish the balance of the conversation so that those involved can exchange ideas in a good-hearted way without one person trying to gain the upper hand over the other.
Sébastien Ermacore, technical director at Netecise and IT consultant, provides further clarity on this topic:
“When a user comes to you with a problem you have to help them to understand, be very clear and, most importantly, never lie to them. You must always be sincere.”
Let’s be honest about this. It’s not easy to manage things when emotions are high, and it requires one key ingredient: sincerity. Marshall Rosenberg, one of the gurus of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), defined sincerity as “an expression of what guides us rather than what we think of others.”
Adopting a kind and sincere attitude is key, especially when preparing to face objections (remember that your perception of things can directly influence how you communicate). Before a difficult meeting or discussing common objections in your workplace, try to adopt a kind and sincere attitude.
Let’s now look at a method for efficiently dealing with objections. It is one you can prepare in advance of an important meeting/event:
1. I listen actively and observe.
When someone throws an objection at you, listen first to all they have to say and even leave a short silence at the end of their objection before responding.
Doing this will allow the person to vent, and most conflicts can be resolved in this manner: staying quiet allows the other person to say what they wanted to say, and if they have gone too far, they may even realize this themselves while speaking.
Active listening puts you into observation mode, helping you understand the other person’s needs more easily. If the objection generates a lot of emotion, then the time spent listening will serve as an airlock, an emotional airbag that will help you gather yourself.
2. I express my feelings/thoughts while taking into account those of the person opposite me.
To reconnect with the other person, you should try to show them that:
You listened to what they had to say.
Their comments have made you think. To show this, you can use an oral confirmation that you have understood the message.
The key thing here is to use this type of confirmation wisely and based on the type of objection you receive (thus the need for practice and preparation). Objections can be divided into two main categories:
Let’s take a look at a few example situations:
Confirmation of understanding for rational objections
Confirmation of understanding for emotional objections
“Yes and…” (not “yes but…”) or “OK”
“I can see the anger when you…”
“I understand” or “I hear you”
“What you’re saying makes me sad…”
“I’ve taken note of that”
“I’m surprised/shocked to hear you say that…”
3. I ask questions and, if necessary, reformulate the other person’s ideas.
To answer an objection, or several objections (they often come in groups!), you must understand them as best as possible. Ask the other person questions:
To clarify certain aspects (“What exactly do you mean by…?”)
Or to get a confirmation of the person’s meaning (“Do you mean that…?”)
The benefit of asking questions is two-fold: it ensures that what you say is relevant. Asking questions also helps you gradually take back control in the conversation (the person asking questions is often the one who directs a conversation). When doing so, you can also reformulate what the other person has said if necessary.
4. I provide, if necessary, a short explanation.
In certain circumstances, if (and only if) you see that the other person is asking you a question or wants an explanation, then provide a clear and concise answer.
5. I confirm that we now understand one another.
Lastly, (this is especially important) after an emotional discussion, confirm with the other person that you now understand one another. You could use, for example, a sentence like, “So, if I understood you correctly…”. Doing this allows both of you to confirm your different perspectives on the discussion.
Over to You Now!
At the start of this chapter, you noted examples of objections in your workbook. Now add to this:
What you understood in the objection (the result of your active listening).
An appropriate way to confirm you understood the message.
Questions to be asked after the objection and a short, concise explanation if necessary.
Objections are a normal part of relationships; by objecting, a person expresses their needs. An objection is an opportunity to have an open discussion.
Natural reactions - anger, running away, justifying yourself - are not always appropriate.
You can handle objections positively by taking the time to listen to the person, recognizing your feelings and those of all others involved, and trying to understand what they are trying to tell you.
You can now practice dealing with objections. Be aware that this is probably one of the most difficult exercises we’ll go through during this course.
In some situations, you will be confronted with behavior or reactions that you think are inappropriate or even hurtful, but you’re unable to stop what you’re doing and discuss it right away. You’ll need a new arrow in your bow for such situations: the ability to give someone feedback. Find out more about this in the next chapter!