Life is loaded with opportunities to benefit from interpersonal interactions, depending on how you deal with them. We've identified two real-world events that elevate the typical person's blood pressure. We've also included a constructive response, so you can turn a tough situation into a worthwhile, or at least less irritating, interaction.

Situation 1: When you feel like you're talking to a wall (and want to put your fist through it)

A vendor hasn't provided the product or service you think you requested and paid for. In fact, the poor product is actually hurting your business because it's not the sort of work you like to have associated with your firm.

When you call the vendor to discover what happened and try to get a satisfactory resolution, you get nothing. "We got the project done quickly - even if it was wrong - and we didn't make a lot of money off of it anyway," says the vendor. Unable to see the situation from your perspective and unwilling to make a goodwill gesture such as reducing the invoice amount, the vendor hangs up, leaving you aghast at this interaction and stuck with the poor product or service. Worse, instead of agreeing to fix the problem at no cost to you, the vendor says that he really doesn't want projects like the one he did for you.

Tool 1: Get a fix on reality vs. your expectations

Slamming down the phone or screaming until you're blue in the face are two plausible reactions, but not very effectiveones. Here's one way to make this interaction more productive:

First, don't take responsibility for the vendor's issues. In this example, he set his rates and accepted the job, so his complaints about the profit margin are not your concern.

Second, be certain you are communicating clearly. This means:

  • Stay open to his perspective and remain curious. Don't give in to the inclination to assume you're right just because something's important to you.
  • Gather information by asking several open-ended questions such as "How do you see this situation?" or "What's most important to you in situations like this?" The more you understand where he's coming from, the more realistic - and less frustrating - your conversation will be.
  • Back up your opinions ("You've demonstrated weak listening skills") with facts ("In the project description we discussed on August 9, I listed the project specs and requirements. I do not see those requirements reflected in this product.")
  • Make sure you and the vendor agree on the core issue or most important result of the project. For example, if flawless quality is most important to you, but the vendor places all of the importance on meeting a delivery date, you're already on different tracks that may never meet.
  • Document your conversations in your planner or other log. When it comes time to fix a problem or miscommunication, a specific record of events allows for a less emotional conversation.

Finally, decide on your courses of action before you call. Plot out the various responses you may get from the vendor, and make your decision for each. You never want to make a decision in the heat of the moment. Planned ahead of time, a response such as, "I hear what you're saying, but that business philosophy does not match with the way we like to do business. We'll have to end our relationship" is much easier to say, and you feel confident that it was the right move to make.