When was the last time you were uncomfortable? Not like there's-a-tag-in-your-shirt-that's-scratching you uncomfortable…I'm talking about socially uncomfortable. That feeling where you want to crawl under something or at the very least avert your eyes because you can't bear to meet the eyes of the other person. You might look back and cringe over the moment because it was just so uncomfortable or the way you handled it was just…bad.
- Did someone ask you that dreaded, "So, what do you do?" question?
- Did you have to have a discussion with someone on the topic of money?
- Did you have to stand up for something when you knew you were going against the majority?
- Did you make a faux pas so bad you wish your could erase the memory, Men In Black style?
This topic always makes me think of that deodorant commercial where the cute 20-something is at a work party with her boyfriend. She sees him standing at the refreshments table, walks up and flirtatiously smacks his butt then he turns around and it's her boss wearing the exact same outfit as her boyfriend. I'm shuddering just thinking of it!
Now think of one of those moments in your life (bonus points if it was in your biz). Do you have a super uncomfortable moment in your mind? Tell me- what happened as a result?
Was your life in danger? No? Did you almost lose your home? No? Did you business go under? No? Do you get what I'm getting at here? The point is that we're all conditioned to be almost deathly afraid of awkward and uncomfortable situations.
I'm not saying that you should go up and smack a random person's butt tomorrow- I'm just saying that sometimes the biggest leaps you can make in your business are just on the other side of an uncomfortable situation.
Some obvious examples:
- Raising your rates and having to approach your current clients about it
- Having straight forward sales conversations
- Approaching big names about collaborations
- Nominating yourself for an award
- Speaking in front of a big crowd
Think back again to the awkward moment you were thinking of before. What could have happened if you handled it perfectly? Best case scenario; what was the potential? I'm willing to bet there was serious potential for you to either look awesome, feel awesome, or just grow as a person (bonus points for revenue potential!).
Huge opportunities disguised as potentially awkward moments pop up all the time. Tough discussions and being put on the spot come with the territory when you're running your own business so it's time to get prepared for the situations.
Here are a few simple strategies you can use to prepare for and shine in awkward high-stakes moments:
Ask for more time
I know that I get flustered when I am put on the spot. It's okay to need more time- sometimes we are the ones pressuring ourselves to come up with a quick answer. If it's appropriate in the situation, you can say, "Wow, thanks for asking, that's such a great question. Would it be okay if I get back to you on that? I want to be sure that I can give you the best answer/explanation and I don't feel quite prepared to do that this moment." As a bonus, it makes you look even better because it shows that you care about accuracy and quality.
Say your peace, then shut up!
One of my good girlfriends taught me this years ago and I’ve heard it time and time again since then. Silence is your friend! This is particularly true in negotiations or when discussing rates or rate changes. When we are have uncomfortable conversations, we all seek to make the situation more comfortable, perhaps subconsciously. So, what do we find comfortable? Words, noise, chatting, small talk, filling the space so no one has to deal with what’s right in our face: the uncomfortable topic. My friend told me the story of a friend of hers who was negotiating her new salary and was asking for significantly more than the initial offer. When they asked what number she was thinking, she told them and then was silent. An uncomfortable amount of time went by where there was silence on both sides because both were aware that whoever spoke first “lost.” Finally, the company’s HR rep spoke first- and she got her much higher rate. Although it was an uncomfortable silence (she said it was almost unbearable and felt like a solid minute of silence), she didn’t lose the opportunity and I can damn well bet the people that went toe-to-toe with her in the negotiation respect her for sticking to her guns and negotiating like a champ. Silence is golden. Say your piece and then shut up!
Prepare ahead of time
If it's possible, get your head together before the potentially awkward situation. I do this by thinking through every possible rebuttal, response, and reaction. There are some situations in which you may be unable to predict how things will unfold but the vast majority of the time, you can anticipate possible outcomes. Once I think of all possibilities, I plan how I will handle each of those situations. Need to fire a client? Think through all potential outcomes and consider reaching out to your network to find out what people in your trusted inner-circle have encountered in similar situations. Ask for their hindsight advice. Think through every possible situation, role play your points and rebuttals, and prepare yourself. You'll feel a million times better going into that conversation than if you were just to wing it.
I love using humor in tough situations when it's appropriate and won't minimize or undermine my stance. As a general rule of thumb, this is helpful in lower-stake situations. In the right situation, I think it's funny to bring attention to the awkwardness of that situation because it eases the tension. You will know when it is an appropriate time to throw in a little one liner but always be prepared to smile, laugh at yourself, and realize that everyone is human. I've seen this work really well when someone is speaking in front of a group and fumbles their words or forgets what they were saying. So make light of it, address it head on, laugh at yourself, and move on. Everyone will appreciate your humanness.
As humans we naturally shy away from uncomfortable situations, even if there's nothing to lose- even if we won't feel any pain other than maybe a pang of embarrassment or momentary emotional dissonance. There's no way to eliminate our self-preservation instinct (and we shouldn't want to!) but I know that if you actively use these strategies, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and confront uncomfortable situations head-on you stand to gain so much.
What's one thing you've been avoiding because it's uncomfortable? What strategy are you going to implement today to confront it?