As the old saying goes: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Sometimes though, it can be challenging. What follows is a prime example of what I mean.

Recently, someone gave me a fancy box of chocolates. It’s fun to share that kind of special treat. So shortly after I received the gift I suggested to some visiting friends that we open the box.

It was beautifully wrapped and when I opened the lid we all expected to see an array of tempting gourmet chocolates. Instead, it was just a single mass of congealed– and obviously old– brown sludge. Frankly, it was pretty disgusting.

I was sure it wasn’t a manufacture’s defect, but instead a “regift.” Whether or not you think regifting is ethical, I’m sure if you’d seen the contents of the box, you’d agree that this particular regift completely backfired.

My first reaction was, I admit, a little retaliatory. I felt like emailing the person who gave me the chocolates to tell them they should contact the store they bought them from to ask for their money back. I knew this would put the person on the spot. But when I mentioned to a couple of friends who are business colleagues, that I was thinking of sending this email, they both said, “Don’t do it–just let go!”

My friends were right. Because what good would it do to call out the regifter? If anything, it would make our relationship, going forward, awkward. And absolutely nothing would be gained from putting the person on the hot seat.

In business, all too often, you’re going to receive the equivalent of a lousy box of chocolates. In the instance of the business relationship you may have a lot to lose if you decide to retaliate. So, if you don’t want to sabotage a business relationship, think twice before you respond. Consider instead the following ways to turn a lemon into lemonade.

The Lemon: You receive what seems to be a rudely worded email or phone message.

The Lemonade: Respond politely, thoughtfully, assuming that the person did not intend to be rude. When you don’t “take the bait” the person sending you “the lemon” may be pleased by your positive response and respond in kind. Your business relationship could actually improve.

The Lemon: You receive what’s definitely a rudely worded email or phone message.

The Lemonade: Think about what motivated the person to communicate poorly– chances are it’s more about them than it is about you. Consider solutions you might offer to that person that could help matters, rather than escalating any tensions. For example, consider getting on the phone to say you’re concerned about what the person said/wrote, and you really hope to move things forward in a positive manner. Listen to what he or she has to say, without fighting fire with fire.

In general, I think it’s a good idea to subscribe to Brian Tracy’s philosophy that underlies the goal of turning negative situations into positive ones. That is to take responsibility for your own behaviour and actions. It’s all you really can control. You simply cannot control the behaviour of others.

Of course, there are times when people are stressed and they behave poorly. If your gut feeling is that the lemon you’ve been handed is a result of one of those times, you might also consider letting the whole matter drop, helping the other person save face. In other words, just throw out that crummy box of chocolates.

If you need help finding ways to deal with challenging business communications, contact me at the Language Lab. I’ll help you turn those lemons into lemonade.

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