My team recently met with a new client’s executive management team and had an amazing first meeting. What made it amazing was the dynamic conversation. Everyone fed off each other’s input while enthusiasm for the work to begin increased the longer we talked.
After the meeting we reflected on why the meeting went so well. During the conversation I realized the reasons are worth sharing with you. They are reminders for engaging others in dynamic conversation no matter the context.
Go in to the meeting “open.” We coordinated an agenda with the client and knew what topics were planned for discussion, but we didn’t arrive with solutions in mind for the project. It’s a new client for us and we don’t know the environment, history, internal/external influences on the organization, and so on. We wanted to hear what the executive team had to share so we could begin to understand where they are. We wanted to begin to know them as people.
Use your ears. We listened to understand. After introductions, we didn’t say anything for some time.
Share experiences. We shared various experiences we’ve had that were relevant to the client situation. It demonstrated that we were listening and understood what they want to accomplish.
Tie in examples shared in the conversation. We referred back to examples the client shared with us and tied them back into the conversation. This showed our interest and ability to understand the unfolding situation.
Remember everyone’s name and use them. On a blank sheet of paper, I draw a square to represent the table. I then write the names of each person around the square to match where they are sitting. It helps me remember people’s names. I consider it a sign of respect to remember people by their name, even in the first meeting.
Do your homework. We read the company’s strategic plan. We studied their organizational chart. We knew as much as we could about the company before meeting with the client. We didn’t really use this information in the conversation. It grounded us in their world, however.
Make your thinking visible. This is one of the secrets to my success. I give verbal cues to people to help them know how to listen or engage in the conversation. For example, “I’m thinking out loud,” or “I have a couple observations to share.” It shows consideration to the listener. It also helps defuse potentially contentious conversations.
When these seven “secrets” are used authentically (meaning not forced) it contributes a level of compassion to the conversation that most appreciate. They are also very other-person focused: our interaction was about learning about our new client, in this case.
We didn’t feel the need to show-off our talents. We simply showed up to connect with people and related to them as such.