When you’re in the business of working with humans, it’s inevitable that tricky conversations are going to come up.
From letting clients know that an outcome they wanted didn’t eventuate, to following them up about late payments, or making the call to end your professional relationship, respectful communication is key.
Plus, how you approach uncomfortable conversations often translates into the reputation of your business – and we all know that having a good reputation is linked to your bottom line.
In a sector that’s working with a cohort of vulnerable people, clear, compassionate communication is vital, and providers who are known for it enjoy positive word of mouth referrals and repeat business.
At My Plan Manager, we’re in contact with thousands of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants every month, and we’ve been connecting with them for years! Here are a few tips we’ve picked up along the way.
Does your client prefer to communicate via email, over the phone or in person? Do they have specific communication requirements – like needing a translator present for all conversations?
Taking their preferences and requirements into account can make a difficult conversation easier to have because it will be more accessible to your client. At My Plan Manager, we record if a client has a preferred method of communication, and wherever possible, we make sure to adhere to their preferences.
New information can be overwhelming, and sometimes it can be difficult to take it in.
To help your client participate in meetings and absorb information related to them, why not invite them to bring along a person they trust? Having someone by their side who can listen to the conversation and recap it for them in private later may make all the difference.
If you’re having a conversation that’s challenging or complex, it’s important the discussion doesn’t take you off course. That’s why preparing notes and talking points is a great idea.
You might like to suggest your client does the same, to keep the conversation on track and make sure everyone gets the opportunity to have their say.
Whether you’re meeting with your client in person, or speaking with them on the phone, avoiding distractions is helpful and maintaining confidentiality is a must.
That’s why we always recommend the conversation takes place in an environment where your client will feel calm and able concentrate, and where they can understand what you’re saying and what it means for them.
Wherever you can, avoid phone calls in busy cafes or noisy office spaces, and schedule face-to-face meetings in designated quiet spaces, rather than high traffic areas.
Did you know up to 90 per cent of communication is non-verbal – including body language and tone of voice?
Non-verbal communication, like sitting up straight and making eye contact, can build authority and instil trust in the person you’re communicating with. It must be said, speaking in a tone that’s friendly can put a client at ease at a difficult time.
When you’re having a confronting conversation, but looking for a good outcome for all, think about your facial expressions, keep an open body (no folded arms or crossed legs), and stay calm and measured while you speak (and speak slowly, clearly and kindly).
Even if you’re on the phone, being mindful of your body language (it guides your mood!) and tone of voice can make all the difference.
We have a lot of respect for expertise, but when experts talk jargon, it’s often like they’re speaking a different language. They’re working in their field and that’s the language they use, but sometimes they can forget that not everyone has the same vocabulary.
When a client is knee deep in the NDIS, they need as much clarity as they can possibly get – and giving them practical, easy-to-understand advice that sets them on the path to success is impactful.
For us, it’s all about supporting our NDIS clients to feel empowered and in control of their plans – and that starts by having clear conversations that strip out the rhetoric.
Has your client had a bad experience in the recent past? Do they have a history of abandonment or trauma? Has there been a pattern of hearing ‘no’ as they navigate the red tape of life as an NDIS participant?
These are just some of the many lived experiences that can impact the day-to-day lives of the people we work with.
With that in mind, try to be the difference in someone’s day – even when having uncomfortable conversations with them. Recognise that some discussions can be triggering and think about tempering them with a disclaimer, like ‘What I’m about to say is challenging, but I’m here to support you’, or consider inviting a support person to join and assist your client.
Walking in someone else’s shoes is a simple tactic that can really help when preparing for a tough client interaction.
It’s only natural to want to avoid a tough conversation, but delays can make things worse.
The earlier a difficult discussion takes place, the sooner it lets the person you’re speaking with understand what’s happening and assess what it means for them.
People may not remember everything said in a conversation, especially when there’s a lot to process.
Emailing your client a written summary of what you’ve covered, and any actions and key dates they need to note, can help. You may also want to include documents that support your conversation, with relevant points highlighted.
If the news that you’re breaking is disrupting services, can you write a transition plan or provide resources that will support your client in the interim?
It’s estimated that up to 50 per cent of Australians don’t have functional literacy. This could be because of interrupted schooling, disability or coming from a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) background.
Consider whether you need to use a Plain English or Easy Read translation of your work, and at the very least, never choose a longer or more complicated word when a shorter one will do.
Keeping things simple converts better for everyone, and simplicity and compassion are great tool for supporting clients in every sector – but especially those that are centred on a vulnerable cohort.
There’s a health industry statistic that says 85 per cent of patients value compassion over cost and waiting time, and we think keeping that in mind can add value to those working in the disability sector as well.
Remember, at the end of the day, every conversation and every written interaction is ultimately between humans!