My client was ready to check himself into a home for the bewildered. Yet again, he’d gone into a meeting and come out three hours later with nothing to show for it, and the only thing agreed was that everyone should reconvene next week. It was driving him nuts. “How do I fix it?” was his challenge to me.
I asked the usual question “Who’s responsible?” My client struggled between blaming himself, and blaming everyone else. He came to the conclusion that since he can’t control the other people he deals with, he might as well start working on managing himself. After all, for most of us, our own worst enemy is often ourselves. On the plus side, that means you can also regain control by taking a little time to consider the factors that get you into trouble in the first place.
Here are some of the most common behaviours that contribute to us getting exactly the results we deserve. (It doesn’t matter if it’s a sales presentation, sports club committee meeting or arranging a family reunion – the same principles apply.)
The depressingly familiar bit…
- Having no real objective (unending discussions and pointless meetings)
- Make assumptions (I know what’s going to happen before we start, and I’m right)
- Don’t listen, just dive in with your solution (I know what’s best for everyone else, so they’d better listen to me.)
- Not talking to the right person (more pointless discussion – a complete waste of time and energy)
- Offer only what you want, not what works for the other person (I win, you lose – I may also be too lazy to make the effort)
- Not asking for commitment (’kicking the can down the road’ – no agreement asked for and none reached – an abdication of responsibility).
How to fix it…
If you’re showing up to get things off your chest, or just to tick a box without making a contribution, you can’t really expect other people to accommodate you to any great extent. A better way to set yourself up for a positive result is to ask in advance: “What do I want to get out of this meeting AFTERWARDS?” When you figure that out, it changes how you involve yourself in the discussion – both the way you listen, and the way you speak. It also gives you the evidence to show how successful you’ve been. Finally, by having a tangible objective, there’s far less chance of having to go over old ground yet again.
How often have you groaned with boredom or frustration because people go on and on about irrelevant issues? They know what’s important to them, but bother about anyone else. If that’s been ‘done unto you’ so to speak, have you also ‘done unto others’ in the same manner? Avoid using or paint-by-numbers solutions. Instead, ask the other party what’s important to them, and check for understanding and agreement. Otherwise, you’re taking AT the other person. Guess what? They stop listening.
Talking (or venting) to someone who has no influence over the result may give a temporary feeling of satisfaction, but it doesn’t actually change anything. Why not find the decision maker and talk to them instead?
A professional buyer now long retired, once gave me a great piece of advice. “Always leave the other fellow with the bus fare home.” He took the long term view, and didn’t feel the need to drive such a hard bargain that his supplier felt humiliated or ripped off. He wanted a good deal for himself while preserving the opportunity to do business again in the future.
Always confirm what’s agreed before you end the discussion. Otherwise, people may interpret the outcome (and their part in it) differently. That can lead to either recriminations or another repeat of the familiar discussion.
Finally, stop beating yourself up. Instead, use your checklist (and practice).
- What do I want AFTER the meeting/discussion?
- Ask questions to check you understand other people’s perspective
- Show you’ve listened when you present your solution
- Don’t humiliate the opposition
- Confirm the decision/actions agreed