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Handling Big Egos

Level: Beginner

Preamble:

How do you manage rude clients or partners that you need to continue working with? How can you be polite while displaying your capability? DBS’ Managing Director of Wealth Planning, Peter Triggs, gives you practical insights to manage big personalities and egos in a business setting.

Gain Actionable Insights to:

  • Balance the art of being polite and inspiring confidence in clients and partners
  • Respond to difficult and rude clients that you need to continue working with
  • How you can build respect and rapport with high net worth clients who have big egos
Business Etiquette Today

You need to avoid pointing in Thailand, pour drinks for your companions without filling your own glass in Japan, always say ‘Bonjour’ when you meet someone for the first time in France and don’t show the soles of your feet in the Middle East. There are many cultural etiquettes that vary by country, but what about in the world of business? There are many big personalities and people with huge egos that you need to learn to manage in order to be more effective and see fruits from your meetings.

Treating others with respect is something that should come naturally to anyone who has received a reasonable education. In a business context, these same elements are crucial in contributing to business effectiveness. Being punctual for a meeting. Listening to your customer. Observing niceties such as taking an interest in someone’s views, their family, and what has happened to them recently can be important in building rapport. Picking up hints on their mood, character and real needs is also vital. Observing the other party’s attention to their etiquette can also tell you a lot about them.

Most people today have a degree of stress in their working lives. People are busy, they’re multitasking, meeting deadlines, meeting targets (or failing to), dealing with frustrations, and dealing with rudeness. Many people are carrying burdens we are not even aware of. It’s incredibly refreshing to meet someone in a work setting who smiles when they first meet you, someone who looks happy to see you, who enquires about you. On the flipside, having a pre-determined agenda, impatience to execute, combined with arrogance and unwillingness to listen to others sets many people up for failure.

Etiquette is such a simple thing, yet it has a profound and immediate impact on managing big egos and building good relationships. It is really just observing fundamental rules of politeness, but it shows interest, humanity, respect and is very effective in terms of getting a good result. Very successful people have this habit of putting the other person at ease.

One of the biggest challenges in etiquette over the last twenty years has been brought about by electronic communications such as emails, WhatsApp, Skype and other social apps.

Some basic things you need to be checking on are how you address people through these tools, being careful of who you are copying in the email, avoiding all capital letter sentences which seems like you’re shouting at someone, and checking for errors before sending out your message or e-mail. All these basic things help to reduce the chances of offending someone.

When it comes to WhatsApp or equivalent messages to clients or business partners, you don’t want to be extremely formal, but you don’t want to come across as rude either. The general rules of courtesy should still apply but in an abbreviated form. For instance, you could start with “John” or, if you want you can say “Dear John” and then you wish him “Good morning”, “Happy New Year” or ask him how he is. You need to put in something pleasant before you dive into the main message of the text. You can then still end with “Best Regards”  or something similar.

While you may take care of the basics, the person you’re communicating with may not. The reality is that we have all been upset by messages that seemed curt, or disappointed by replies that seemed to have been made with haste, lacking proper attention to the message we had sent previously. The opportunities for turning communication into miscommunication are many. So how then do you deal with others to ensure that you meet your business outcomes?

Dealing with Others

In every context, everyone hopes, and rightly expects, to be shown an element of respect, no matter how humble their occupation.  Manners, politeness and etiquette are society’s way of codifying these concepts in everyday dealings. Yet no one wants to be a pushover or be seen in a negative light.

How do you come across as both polite and capable?

Politeness is about form. Keeping your ego out of the conversation and, if necessary, tolerating rudeness (up to a point) if you are in a position of providing or selling a service. Hence the adage ‘the customer is always right’ in a retail setting.  Capability is a matter of substance rather than form. Think of the excellent example you see from SQ cabin crew.  Completely capable in their work, and patiently tolerant of any arrogant, demanding or even rude clients.

So what are some practical ways you can deal with people better?


Get to the Root

It’s useful to try to see things from the perspective of the other party.  How much time do they have, why have they come, what do they really want.  What might they really need that could be different?

In a meeting, an inquisitive approach with open-ended questions that encourage your customer or partner to speak will achieve many objectives. It shows respect. It builds trust, as you will appear as someone who seeks to understand. It helps you learn more about your customer. It will help you check that you have understood correctly. It will leave a favourable impression of the meeting.

If a client appears rude in a business meeting, rather than being offended, I think it is interesting to consider what may be the real root cause. There may be an underlying dissatisfaction or frustration that could actually turn out to be a selling opportunity. Listening, exploring and showing empathy may yield surprisingly favourable results.  Occasionally, a smile or gentle use of humour may disarm.


Give the Benefit of the Doubt

A simple and yet powerful response is to give people the benefit of the doubt when a person comes across as rude. Always respond in a friendly and helpful tone, be quick to apologise for any misunderstanding, and you’ll be surprised by the response that you receive.

There are of course limits, and behaviours that should not be tolerated. I was in a business meeting some years ago when a prospect suddenly became angry and started shouting for no apparent reason. His language was bad. This does not need to be tolerated, so I stood up, thanked him for his time, and led my colleagues out of the room.

On another occasion I told a very big client, who used to regularly call and swear at junior staff, to close his account and take his business elsewhere.  You have to set your own standards and live to them. Thankfully, I had an excellent boss at the time who was supportive. Make sure the people you’re working for have such shared values before you choose to end a working relationship this way.


Pay Attention

Take time to pay attention and be fully present. The habit of looking at your emails during a business meeting, and especially at a client meeting, is worse than sending a bad email. You risk sending the message that the present meeting with them is less important than what you’re attending to on your phone.

Twenty years ago, one would have had to get out a newspaper during a meeting to give a similar impression, and I don’t think that happened very much. So it is the etiquette in this electronic age that is the biggest change today. This has also resulted in a definite reduction in attention spans, which we must be aware of and counter in any professional interaction.

On the same point of the digital age, preparing for a meeting has become much easier so you should be using it to your advantage and doing your research on people, companies and facts. To be well prepared for a meeting is a great way to show respect for the other party.

We are in a world of information overload, with constant distractions, short attention spans, and noise. We also have a dozen thoughts in our heads as we try to multi-task.  A useful habit is to block out short periods of time without phone or email interruption to think, plan and focus on specific customers and their needs.  If you’re in a meeting, focus on completely listening and understanding whoever is speaking without necessarily preparing to interrupt. Really listening, rather than just waiting to talk.

In dealing with big egos, the details of etiquette can never be overdone.  Courtesy, respect and paying attention should be enough for most business situations to achieve your goals.

3 Steps to Take in the next 24 hours
  1. Practice Being Mindful
    Focus on your interactions with others. How much do you listen? Take time out and separate from your phone to focus on something for an extended period of time rather than allowing your attention span to be short.
  1. Prepare Now
    Look at your meetings scheduled for the next day. What can you prepare to be better equipped for the meeting? Is there any additional research you can do? Anything you can bring to the meeting that would make the other party pleasantly surprised that you thought of?
  1. Monitor Your Punctuality
    For the next 24 hours, monitor what you are late for and what the usual reasons are? Now try to write down how you will work on being more punctual and being a more reliable person.

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