Episode 177: Handling Difficult Conversations With Per Mattsson

The black and gold Two-Brain Radio podcast logo.

Greg: 00:01 – All right. I’m on another amazing episode of Two-Brain Radio with Per Mattsson. How are you sir?

Per: 00:07 – I am fine. How are you?

Greg: 00:09 – I’m doing great. So we wanted to bring you on because you’ve had an amazing—I mean, up to this point, everything in life has kind of been throwing you curveballs and you’ve had a lot of abilities to take on tough conversations or difficult conversations with people. So we wanted to bring you on. You made an amazing article, which we’ll make sure we link in the show notes for the Coaches Congress, and for Two-Brain. But let’s kind of take a step back and talk about those things or those opportunities that you’ve had throughout your life. What other positions besides owning a gym have you had?

Per: 00:49 – My professional career, I actually started out as a construction worker but quickly turned into teaching. So I was a high-school teacher for five years. After that I had a job as a vice principal for a couple of years and then I was a leadership consultant for three years doing, you know, a lot of work training teachers, training principals and politicians in how to become a better leader more or less. And after that I have a job as a principal. So I’ve been, you know, working in or around schools for 10 to 12 years.

Greg: 01:35 – Wow. And I can only imagine, I mean, knowing the education system and having many, many kids in classes. And then on top of that, you being a principal, I can only imagine the conversations that you’ve had to have throughout your career there.

Per: 01:50 – Yeah, definitely quite a few. It’s hard to remember everything. I tend to forget easily as well, but when I started writing these articles, a lot of things and situations came back to me. And I mean, yes, when you’re a teacher, I mean you are handling and you are leading other people’s kids and as you know, parents, they can be very protective and sometimes they don’t really react logically or keeping their emotions in check. So no matter if you’re a good teacher or not, you will end up in difficult or hard situations regarding parents. Definitely.

Greg: 02:35 – Throughout that curriculum or that education career that you had, what were the hardest conversation that you can think of that you’ve had to kind of navigate through?

Per: 02:48 – I would say it depends. I had a couple of difficult parents when I was being a teacher. I think if those situations had happened to me a bit later, when I had, you know, trained to become a principal and had more experience, I think that those situations wouldn’t have felt that hard anymore, but when I had them they were quite tough. You know, sometimes when parents are—they haven’t got shared custody for instance, and there might be a very serious conflict between two parents regarding the kid and I could be the only contact with the kid for one of the parents, if you know what I mean. So they they tend to act out on their conflict using me as a teacher and situations like that are really, really hard when a parent that you know is very obnoxious and I don’t know how to explain it, but they tend to take their conflict into school. So I have to be like the middle man acting as some sort of negotiator or something like that. That’s very difficult, especially when I was like 26, 27 years old trying to handle situations like that.

Per: 04:05 – Yeah. I can only imagine being 26 or 27 and trying to navigate a conversation between two people that probably don’t get along or have never gotten along. And they do have a child between the two of them. And you have to make sure that they don’t hurt themselves, hurt each other, or mentally hurt the kid that’s having to sit in between this.

Per: 04:28 – Exactly. And I mean, that was the exact situation right there because one of the parents was, he was very violent, so we had to, you know, be very careful of, we couldn’t let him into school, etc. And he was constantly trying to come to school and the daughter didn’t feel very comfortable with that, et cetera. So that was one of the hardest situations as a teacher. Definitely. So he was trying to call me every day, every night, more or less before I put a stop to it. So, yeah, that was difficult.

Greg: 04:59 – Yeah. Now you’ve also, changing gears, after the other things that you’ve done throughout this was you are a gym owner, but that’s not the only business you’ve owned, correct?

Per: 05:13 – No. I started like a food delivery service, for instance. That’s one of the other businesses I’ve done and we have a physio center where we, you know, what do you call, physiotherapy, et Cetera, stuff like that. Yeah.

Per: 05:35 – OK. And throughout those businesses, I mean, being a gym owner, most people that are listening are usually gym owners or business owners in service-based business, but they understand the difficult conversations you have to have with maybe a staff member that you have to let go or other situations. But, running other businesses that are service based like that, like food delivery, if it doesn’t get there on time or other situations, those can definitely come up as conversations you’ve got to have and navigate through that aren’t always the easiest.

Per: 06:06 – Definitely. Definitely. I would say though that after being a foster parent and principal for so long, I feel that almost no situation is really hard anymore, honestly. So dealing with a client or a customer who isn’t satisfied, that’s nothing anymore for me. It’s always a matter of perspective.

Per: 06:33 – Very true. Do you feel like it’s not as difficult for you due to the fact that you’ve had these experiences or what do you feel like has been the cause for you to feel like, hey, tough conversations really aren’t as tough anymore for me only because of …

Per: 06:49 – It’s because of those experiences. I mean for instance, when you are a foster parent you’re also handling someone else’s kid. They are living with you. You take over more or less take over the role as the acting parent and in many cases the parents are quite dysfunctional. We’ve had some cases with parents that were really, really hard to handle, and I mean really hard. They were like lying about us. In other situations they tried to, more or less they accused us of anything, more or less. And you have the still have the obligation to sort of facilitate the contact and the relationship between the child and the parent and the biological parents. So you can’t avoid it. You still have to meet them regularly and you sit there and they basically throw shit at you. So you learn not to go into some sort of defense mode or you learn not to attack them. You just learn to bite your tongue and listen and then try to be mature in that conversation and that is really, really tough. But you learn from it.

Greg: 08:15 – What do you feel like was your motivation to be a foster parent, be a high school principal, be a multi-business owner? What do you feel like was the influences to go down all of these routes, because all these routes aren’t easy. You did not choose a desk job that’s nine to five that you just crunch numbers and then leave when it’s five o’clock. And I mean, you could’ve taken much easier routes, but you completely went against that and took some of the hardest routes possible. What was the reasoning for that?

Per: 08:44 – I think that the main thing actually was when I was a kid, we were three brothers and I was, I think I was 12 years old, something like that. And we had another brother and he was born with Down syndrome. And I mean, I remember us being kids that when we really wanted to say something bad to each other, we called them like Mongo or something like that. And then I had a brother who was actually a mongoloid or a Down syndrome. And that was like, it was a real wake-up call for me and our family, I think. And we had to handle a lot of prejudices from people around us about my brother, etc. And I think both my mom and dad were really strong in that situation. So I think that inspired me from the beginning. And
since then, my parents, they took on kids being foster parents. So I think that started something in me. Like I wanted to help people, I wanted to fight prejudices and stuff like that. So I think that’s the main thing for me. Yeah, definitely.

Greg: 10:08 – Wow. Yeah, that’s really awesome that your parents did that and you’ve kind of taken that on as being a foster parent and then going down these other roads to help more and more people. Cause that’s really what it seems like, out of the common theme between these three occupations that you’ve had. Or big meta-occupations, if you want to call it that, is the fact that you just like helping people.

Per: 10:33 – I do, both because it’s good for them, but it’s also some sort of ego boost, right? You can’t deny that it’s nice helping people. You feel good doing it. And if you sometimes end up in tough situations because of it, I think it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s been really hard for me. And the mother of my kids that I’ve been living with for 23 years, it’s been really, really hard. But in the long run, I think we and our daughters, we are stronger because of it. Yeah, definitely.

Greg: 11:14 – So diving into the article, you have three big tactics that you want people to use when they’re dealing with a tough conversation or difficult conversation. And the first tactic you have is listen. Now I can say, hey, I’m listening to somebody, but it’s not as easy as that. And in certain situations, I mean as you said earlier, you have a foster parent, when they’re throwing stuff at you, I mean mentally, hopefully not physically, but it’s hard to just listen, but how did you navigate through that? Or how did—what are situations where you’ve had to just listen?

Per: 12:00 – There’s always a cause for that tough talk. I think that both parties entering that conversation knows that this is not going to be a comfortable conversation. And so people tend to project their feelings onto the other part even before the conversation has even started. And if you are the boss or the leader of any kind, you know that sort of your time in this conversation will come, right. So most people tend to, they listen for a while but they only listen so they can find things to sort of respond to. So they are very quick in responding or saying, yeah, OK, so you say that but you know, this is my version of it and they are really quick in responding and then it turns into some sort of debate or argument.

Greg: 12:58 – So what are the things with listening that you want people to do?

Per: 13:04 – Gather information. You really need to try to understand the other person’s perspective and how they feel about this. That’s super, super important because if you don’t gather that information, it’s like having a No-Sweat Intro, right? You want to know stuff about the person so you can recommend the best possible solution; This is about understanding your staff or your client or whatever it is. So you can be a better leader in trying to solve the situation. I mean, if you entered a conversation with a will to make things better, you need to listen to the other part. Make sense?

Greg: 13:45 – It does. It does completely. I mean, listening is a huge portion, especially when, I know for me personally, I’ve gotten in arguments with staff before, primarily my head coach because we’ve known each other way before even I opened the business. We were very good friends and so we didn’t agree on some situations. But the hardest thing for me to do was to stop and listen, and what you’re saying here is to actually listen.

Per: 14:12 – Yeah. And I think also what could happen if you listen and if you really show the other person that you are listening and that you are not feeling threatened or that you’re not waiting to throw back at them or anything, you may sort of slow things down in the conversation and you may actually have them feel more comfortable and relaxed in one or two minutes. So I think it’s a great start just to show that you’re willing to listen.

Greg: 14:42 – Tactic number two that you had was asking questions or ask questions. What are the questions that people should be asking after listening and gathering info and going into this next tactic.

Per: 14:57 – I think it depends on what you hear, of course. But I think one of the main or even first questions that you need to use is the one I wrote in the article. What do you think my feelings or my interpretation of this situation could be? Because I’m not telling anyone to sort of be passive in a conversation like this, it’s just that you need to be specific and clear and listening first and then asking them to, OK, try to look at things from my point of view. What do you think my feelings are or my interpretation is? I think that’s a good one for the—sorry—

Greg: 15:44 – No, you’re good. I was just gonna say, so it sounds like the first one with listening is more of trying to understand their side of the situation, but tactic number two of asking questions is more of seeing if they understand your side of the situation.

Per: 15:58 – Yeah, because I mean after doing this tactic number one and tactic number two, you may actually be in a situation where there is no problem anymore and you have already solved the problem, I don’t know. Or another way, another thing could be to start asking clarifying questions of the information that you had. So let me see if I understood you correctly. Did you mean this and this and that or what did you actually mean by saying this? So that could be another way of digging deeper into it. But I think it’s really important that the other part of the conversation also takes responsibility for understanding you.

Greg: 16:45 – Do you feel like with asking the right questions, I mean, as you said earlier, it can lead to the point where you actually have a solution that it was just a misinterpretation. Do you feel like with tactics one and two of listening and asking questions, that there have been scenarios where the other person has gotten too emotional and then how have you handled that?

Per: 17:10 – Yes, definitely. I mean, let’s say for instance that you start by asking that first question or just asking them to tell your side of the story, et Cetera. And then you may end up in a situation where they throw a lot of stuff at you and they accuse you of things and you just have to go, keep on listening, dig deeper, keep on asking questions. And I don’t know, if they still don’t understand that there might be two different sides of the story or they could be actually responsible for some of the things, then it’s time to be a bit more clear and say, OK, but actually this is the way I look at it, or you have to understand that there’s another way of looking at it and could be this, et cetera. Does that answer your question? I sort of lost myself there for a while.

Greg: 18:00 – You’re OK, no, it does. If somebody is out there that’s listening, that let’s say they go through these tactics and themselves or the other person get too emotional, what do you suggest that they do?

Per: 18:15 – I think that you should—you can always be sort of open with what is actually happening. Let’s say I’ve been in many conversations where the person has started crying for instance, and many, especially women, they sort of feel, they start feeling a bit almost guilty when they cry in a situation like that and they don’t like crying because they think that the other person is considering them being weak or whatever. And then I think you should just confirm what’s happening. There’s no wrong with crying, take your time, do you want me to get you a napkin or something like that. Just be patient, be clear that this it’s not a good or a bad thing that you’re crying or that you’re angry or whatever. So instead of sort of pretending that it’s not happening just tell it like it is.

Greg: 19:10 – So it sounds like basically going off of facts more of than going off of things that we are interpreting as facts, but maybe they aren’t. So I feel when people say the things like I
feel like they’re doing this, that’s more of a feeling and not a fact. Is that what you’re meaning?

Per: 19:27 – Yep. Absolutely.

Greg: 19:30 – So going into tactic number three. Agree on a solution for next time.

Per: 19:40 – I mean you want to leave that meeting feeling that you have taken some sort of step forward, right. You can’t just leave it with someone saying their version and you saying yours and you ask questions and then nothing happens. You need to have, OK, so what’s the next step for us? And that could be, OK, so how do you think we could solve a problem like this before getting angry at each other or before getting upset at each other next time? Or what do you think would be a good solution? Or how can we treat each other in the future instead of doing what we just did to each other. For instance, many of the situations that I’ve been in when it comes to staff are misinterpretations of different text messages or things that they think they have heard that they think I have said or they think I have felt or something like that. So often with better communication you might actually not have as many tough talks at all anymore. But yeah.

Greg: 20:55 – So coming up with these solutions will also, it sounds like, give people the ability to not have to have that same conversation again.

Per: 21:03 – Yeah, because I think what I have learned throughout the years is that many people, they have like an image of a boss that might not be the image that you want them to have of you. They often think that you have like a hidden agenda or something and that you say one thing but you actually mean another thing, et cetera, et cetera. And that is something you really need to work with. Specially if you handle a lot of stuff, it’s easier if you have like one or two coaches only because then you talk to them so often. But if you have like 50, 60 or 80 in your staff, some of them they wouldn’t feel comfortable being absolutely honest with you because they could think that it might affect their paycheck or something like that. So it’s kinda hard sometimes.

Greg: 22:03 – With the conversations that you’ve had with your staff, what’s a recent conversation that you use these tactics to can navigate the conversation to end in a good result?

Per: 22:15 – I think that was with one of my coaches, like half a year ago where that exact thing happened almost, that she was misinterpreting some of the things that I wrote. And then she was very upset, I think she was very upset because she knew that we would have to have a talk more or less. So she was sort of winding herself up and that conversation started with her crying a lot. And I had the general manager with me in the room because I wanted to—he wanted to sort of train in doing situations like this and conversations like this and she wanted someone else with us in the room as well. So, we were actually listening a lot. She was saying, I mean a lot of the things that she felt and stuff like that. And she was crying a lot and we were just waiting and then asked a lot of questions and I asked her to think, OK, so what do you actually think I was trying to say in my text, for instance? And that was how we sort of solved that situation and then we just agreed on OK, so next time we think that someone is meaning something in a text we are going to ask right away, could that be a good solution for us? Yes. So it was sort of—sounds very simple, but sometimes the solution is very simple.

Greg: 23:59 – Awesome. No, I agree 100%. And I know I’ve had many, many difficult conversations being a gym owner and a business owner and being a mentor even and all those things. But, you’ve had a ton of experience with this. I mean, way more than I ever could with being in the education system, being a foster parent and then also owning multiple businesses. So it sounds like overall, if anybody’s out there, the best things they need to do is listen to the conversation, ask the open-ended questions, so they’re asking the questions that they can actually get feedback instead of just yes and no’s it sounds like. And then agreeing on a solution so that moving forward everyone can feel like they had a play in the solution. But then on top of that also say like, OK, if this happens again, we have a solution already built out for it.

Per: 24:51 – Yeah. I think—because asking questions instead of saying what you think is, there’s less threat in it, right? So if you first listen to someone and then you start saying your version, etc., then you’re back to being a threat to the other part. But if you instead ask questions about how do you think I felt? Or what do you think I think about this—you can’t put them in a situation where they feel threatened because you are their boss. You are their leader. There’s always a small, threat in that, right? So you need to take that feeling away from them. You need to help them getting over that. That is why asking questions are so good.

Greg: 25:39 – Agreed. Agreed. And thank you so much, Per, for being able to jump on and spend this time with us and helping anybody out there that is having those tough conversations. Or maybe they’re avoiding those tough conversations with staff or friends or family or whoever, that they can use these tactics to kind of navigate through that conversation and actually have that tough conversation that they’ve been avoiding. So thank you so much for being able to jump on. I know you’ve created a bunch more content and articles. I’ve already actually been able to see a preview of them and they’re amazing. I can’t wait to get them out there, but if somebody is interested, they’re listening to this podcast episode and they’re like, hey, I actually want to—I have a few situations where I want to talk to him about, or better yet, they want to jump into the Incubation and work with you to work on these tough conversations throughout the process. What’s the best way for anyone to reach out to you?

Speaker 5: – 26:33 That’s it.

Speaker 1: – 26:38 Awesome.

Speaker 5: – 26:41 Yeah. OK.

Greg: 26:45 – Yes, I will make sure that that gets put into the show notes as well. So Per, thank you so much, greatly appreciate your time and being able to share that with us.

Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening! Run a Profitable Gym airs twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Be sure to subscribe for tips, tactics and insight from Chris Coooper, as well as interviews with the world’s top gym owners.

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help, and we read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

Leave a Reply

One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.