In business, you will attend many meetings. How you handle these meeting may have a big effect on your career. The truth is even people with excellent planning skills don’t always prepare for meetings and are surprised by the results. You should always think about how you want the other party to feel during and after the meeting. In addition, as with any negotiation, you must take into consideration the other party’s needs, expectations and concerns, and pay close attention during the meeting to make sure you remain aware of them.
One example which proves the point came about when a VP of HR for a potential client wanted to meet about coaching one of their key general managers. The meeting also included the general manager’s boss. After what I felt was an excellent session, they advised that the CEO wanted to meet with me. Since this next step was unusual my antennae went up. “Does the CEO have some concerns about the coaching?” I asked. “I am not sure,” the VP of HR replied. “But I think he is worried that coaching the GM may be a waste of time." Therefore, in preparing for the meeting with the CEO, I decided I would draw him out about his concerns, rather than trying to sell him on our coaching process.
When we met, I asked the CEO to tell what his objectives for the meeting were. He made it clear that the executive in question was very smart but was struggling with the other team members. He stated he would love to see the situation turn around, but couldn’t spend a year on something he didn’t know would be successful. I asked him why he didn’t think it would work and he replied that the executive just didn’t listen and many times misread the situation. “He is more manager than leader,” he went on to say, “and we need a leader in this GM position.”
I could see he was very concerned and therefore proposed that instead of agreeing to a coaching assignment, we agree to do an executive assessment to see if it made sense to move forward. He said, “I like that approach but then, what if the assessment looks promising, but the coaching doesn’t take?” “Good question,” I countered. “So maybe we should break the coaching into three month intervals to monitor the progress.” “That’s great,” he announced and walked out of the meeting. The VP of HR was thrilled, and it ultimately led to a great relationship with their company. However, if instead of coming across as supportive of his needs, we had tried to sell the CEO on our usual program, we would probably have failed.
One benefit of face to face meetings is that you can tune in better to concerns, especially in regard to body language. An example of this occurred with the #2 HR executive of one of my biggest international clients. She wanted to discuss our coaching the CFO of a major division and advised there was a competitor for the assignment. She asked me to review our process, the fees, the timing and who would do the coaching. I reviewed the particulars and discussed the needs of the candidate and she seemed very satisfied. She then asked again, whom we would have doing the coaching. I mentioned one of our senior coaches and advised we would develop a formal proposal.
However, as I watched her body language, I felt something was wrong. Usually very enthusiastic, she seemed subdued. I didn’t know whether she had a personal problem, or an issue with something I said but I felt I had better find out. As I was getting up to leave, I asked if something was bothering her and could I be helpful? She immediately smiled and stated, “you got me. Tony (her boss) is no fan of Dr. Jack Estes, whom you said will be doing the coaching.” “Why?” I asked. She proceeded to lay out some issues from a previous assignment that I did not know had occurred. “Not a problem,” I countered. “How about Dr. Jerry Sullivan?” “That is terrific,” she replied, the enthusiasm returning; “Tony thinks he is great.” I knew we were now okay. However, if we were not meeting face to face, I probably would have missed the clue and we would not have gotten the assignment. Remember, many times, the person you are meeting with has to convince someone else, so making sure you explore possible concerns in this regard, is always smart.
Amelia Island resident Howard Pines (Website, Blog, Columns) has more than 30 years experience as CEO, chairman and founder of BeamPines, a premier firm in the Executive Coaching business. He also co-founded the BeamPines/Middlesex University Master's Program in Executive Coaching. Prior to that he served as Senior VP of Human Resources for a Fortune 100 corporation. He is author of "The Case for Wasting Time and Other Management Heresies."