Mutual respect makes the world go round in business.

That said, we’ve all felt it at some point in a typical working year where respect seems to go out of the window! Many of us work in industries where we’re providing services as a consultancy or vendor.  When managing a customer, or stakeholder within a client, it’s essential to accept the reality of this dynamic. We have to do the convincing and there is that ‘dragon’s den’ style expectation to get things right and be open to scrutiny. The same point may also apply to an MNC setting where you have a customer vendor dynamic across stakeholder groups internationally.

Whilst we have to be patient, resilient and service minded, sometimes, just sometimes, the communication standard may fall below a level we are comfortable with at a human level. Now this may be a subjective point based on the situation and individuals concerned, but there are basic human standards of civility that are quite objective and I’d like to draw attention to where the line is and call upon a collective business responsibility to address and resolve.

It’s in the nature of business that we all have to accept the need to be objective. It’s competitive and tough decisions have to be made and the onus is on the service provider to manage and accept the pressure of this accordingly. Where our service or idea is not adopted, we must consider, in constructive terms, about how we can improve to win the opportunity next time or build enhancements into what we are offering. Better still, perhaps feedback is forthcoming and we can actually implement these ideas into our product and services and use this to move our business forwards. Or maybe it’s just clear to us we didn’t live up to the billing and we need to ‘take one on the chin’.

In all of this there is one thing we should afford ourselves and this is an axiomatic truth. There is a boundary around what is acceptable and what is not. Superiority and hierarchy does not come into it as we are all entitled basic levels of respect in business. Call it a ‘rule of the dojo’ – you bow when you enter and you treat the forum with respect and this applies equally to customers and service providers in any industry of any sort. Of course, it’s up to the service provider to behave in a professional manner and if standards of conduct slip on their part then they would have to accept the consequences.

In my view, we need to get good at spotting when standards slip below what is acceptable and managing an effective set of responses to this. To start I will provide 3 examples..

Disrespectful language – where customers adopt unhealthy, abusive language that falls below acceptable professional standards

Ghosting – complete lack of response, where a service provider has invested time and energy and is therefore reasonably entitled to response and communication in return

Exploitation - where a service provider is taken commercial advantage of through unreasonable demands that are not in the mutual interests of the partnership

This will happen to all service providers at some point and we need to take a collective responsibility to 'call out' any behavior that falls into the categories above. The business world is reciprocal and if we stand by and accept, then the bar is being lowered for all. 

There are means of doing this and we must not exacerbate through coming down to the level of the perpetrator. It is necessary to structure your response along the following lines…

Isolate the behaviour – Seek to understand and define the issue based on the categories above and on an objective basis, can we point to a breach of professional standards;

Secure evidence – can we support our stance evidentially?;

Manage responses – whilst emotions are good such as passion and conviction, avoid resentment and anger coming to the equation and avoid sending email ‘reactions’. Consider and discuss the best tactical response possible and allow initial reactions to pass.

Escalate – who can we communicate the issue to who will appreciate and understand the issue within the customer setting?

Channel – how should we communicate the issue? Ultimately getting face to face with key influencers should be the goal. Again, avoid email where intentions can be misinterpreted and emotions can get in the way.

Be professional and go for gold – if you can gain face time with key 'influencers' and explain the issue calmly, isolate the problem, back up with evidence and show how this has harmed your business, you will be far more likely to secure a mutually acceptable outcome. This is especially if you can show you acted in good faith and the way things have gone is a missed opportunity for both of you.

The reality is that we can often turn negative situations into a positive one; this is a the nature of human interaction. Most industry veterans will be able to recall examples of perceived conflicts that have led to stronger, more binding working relationships, built on enhanced mutual respect. Showing your customers or stakeholders that you value your own brand and staff will lead to better understanding between parties.

Of course, there are some situations you can’t win and there will always be some stakeholders and indeed companies that adopt a ‘speak to the hand’ attitude. Unfortunately for them they will ultimately lose out, so by adopting the process above you will be able to filter out situations you should focus on from those that are simply a lost cause where you really aren’t losing out!