Startup Tips: 4 Ways To Defuse An Awkward Business Situation

ZinePark, Startup Tips, YEC, Guest PostAs female entrepreneurs under the age of 30, my business partner Brittany and I have found ourselves in our fair share of uncomfortable situations. From being carded at client dinners, to being asked if we were the sales girls, our looks and gender have never gone unnoticed by clients.

Since starting the company in January 2011, we have found that no one wants an awkward situation to blow over faster than the person who just made the ultimate blunder. Instead of mumbling “awkward turtle” or cringing at the ordeal, we have discovered another approach that works every time: light-hearted laughter! Spinning the situation from an uncomfortable exchange to a talking point will endear clients. They will appreciate that you didn’t harp on their misstep.

Below are a few maneuvers we’ve used in less-than-ideal situations that left us feeling more like Michael Jordan going for the slam dunk, instead of the towel boy:

Awkward Encounter #1: Founder Faux Pas

  • Client: “It has been great to meet with you ladies. We are looking forward to meeting with your upper management next week.”
  • ‘ZinePak Response: Brittany: “Kim, are you free next week?”
  • Kim: “For these guys, I’m sure I can work something out. You?”
  • Brittany: “Yes, I’m great. Congratulations gentleman, the founders of the company are totally available for a meeting next week as long as you bring the coffee.”

Why It Works: You are letting your client know where you stand in the company hierarchy without belittling them. This proves helpful for the future as the client is more likely to only reach out to you when there is high-level question or concern instead of a task that one of the team members under you can handle.

Awkward Encounter #2: Whose Daughter Are You?

  • Client: “Oh, you are Kim and Brittany?! How did you get this meeting? Do one of your fathers work here or something?”
  • ‘ZinePak Response: “I can see that our reputation preceded us as opposed to our dashing looks, and I can’t be mad about that! Our fathers don’t work here but we know a few dads in the building who have worked with us in the past and think we are pretty awesome. Does that count?”

Why It WorksEstablishing presence within a company is paramount. By letting this person know that you have done deals within the company allows them to mentally put you into a “recommended” grouping in their mind. This also gives them the opportunity to ask you, “Who else have you worked with?,” hopefully giving them a way to change the conversation since their first sentenced started out with a less then positive tone!

Awkward Encounter #3: Your ID, Please

  • We’re at a client dinner when the waiter so eloquently asks: “Can I see your ID, miss?”
  • ‘ZinePak Response: “I keep forgetting to tell my Botox team and plastic surgeon to take it easy. Next thing you know, I won’t be able to buy a lotto ticket!”

Why It Works: You are showing your client that you recognize your young age and embrace it in a humorous way. This lets them know that you aren’t trying to be something you’re not by dressing or acting differently. This amount of comfort with your client will allow a friendly, low-key, and no-fuss atmosphere to flourish.

Awkward Encounter #4: Mistaken Identity

  • We’re out with a client when a stranger refers to me or Brittany or being the client’s daughter/little sister.
  • ‘ZinePak Response: “I wish I could get an ounce of their good looks! Sadly, this is just my client. Instead of sharing a gene pool we share projects and contracts.”

Why It Works: Show me a person who doesn’t like a compliment and I will show you a world-class fibber! First-class flattery isn’t dead as long as it is done in a sincere (and not creepy!) way. Whether it is complimenting someone on a new suit or haircut, going back to business basics is never out of style.

Just remember that at the end of the day, it is best to always be true to yourself. Brittany and I don’t try to pile on makeup or add enough hair spray to make us look older. We just put all of our focus on the most important thing­: our work! Clients care that the work we put in front of them is creative and dynamic, and not about how many wrinkle lines they can make out on our foreheads.

Kim Kaupe is the co-founder of ‘ZinePak, a custom publication company that creates engaging fan packages for entertainers, brands, and celebrities. She graduated with a BA in Marketing from The University of Florida in 2008 and roots loyally for her Gators. Most recently, she and her business partner Brittany Hodak were named to Advertising Age’s 40 Under 40 List for 2013. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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