Today I caught myself walking down the street and listening to the birds above sing. I heard the cars that were driving by, and the sounds the tires made as they splashed through the puddles from the rain that had fallen just a short time ago. I found myself feeling my feet hit the pavement, and the feeling I got from being present. I felt clear and composed, and I felt comfortable in what it was I was about to do.
This was while walking to my biggest meeting of the year.
Not too long ago I was on a similar walk. I had practiced and practiced my pitch, and I felt that I had the precise set of words that would do nothing less than ‘wow’ whoever it was that I was going to talk to. I thought I knew the company inside out, and could address all the concerns of the parts of the strategic plan that were relevant to my company. I worried and stressed about the outcome of the meeting, only to realize after a conversation with a great friend and mentor that living life in the future could prove to be hugely detrimental to the success of the meeting.
Now, when I go to any meeting, or any conversation, my main priorities are to do my homework, and show up to the room with a clear head and an open mind. The truth is that regardless of how prepared we are, and how scripted and perfected the ‘would-be’ pitch is, we’ll never know what the person on the other side is thinking, feeling, or how they’re going to react to what it is we have to say.
After all, we’re only human. Humans are hard to predict.
Six months ago when I went into these meeting, I would do all I could to bring it back to my agenda and script. I felt that if I were to lose my place and fall off of the metaphorical queue cards, that I wouldn’t be able to deliver my pitch.
This is far from true.
Living life in the future, and in strict anticipation of what might happen clouds us from what will happen. There are too many variables to possibly consider, and regardless of the pitch we prepare, we will never be ready for whatever the other person has to throw at us.
So today when I walked in the meeting, yes, I had done my homework, but I was there to listen just as much as I was there to learn.
What I’ve discovered recently (and this may seem blatantly trivial) is that we are all people. We all have loved ones, all get sick, all get flat tires or stuck in transit, all have good an bad days, all get hungry, and all want the best for ourselves and our family. Catching someone at their best is incredibly difficult, and coming into the conversation ready to understand them and adapt to the situation is really, all we can do.
I walked into the meeting and saw that the person on the other side of the table was clearly under a little stress, and didn’t really want to be a part of the meeting. This called for a quick audible and an adjustment for the conversation. My goal was to get to the root of the problem so that I could relate, sympathize, and then get on the same level.
As I started to explore and gently poke, I found that in fact, there was a layoff in the organization. This person lost a peer that was a good friend, and didn’t really know how to handle it. This turned into a conversation about the economy, the difficult times that others were facing, and how alternative methods of downsizing could have perhaps saved the job.
Sure, we drifted off track but that meeting lead to another, which eventually ended up in an engagement with the company. This was about business, it was about relationships. This wasn’t about a sale, it was about understanding.
To make a shift like this from a meeting that was fully intended to be a sale, to more of a sympathetic, understanding conversation was all because of the ability to asses the situation real-time and make an adjustment that ultimately ended up in an adjustment in tone, content, and ask. Presence was the key.
Living in the future and letting the endless variables, would-be, could-be situations weighs on us. Being you, your truest you, and caring about the person on the other side of the table is true business, because business is bigger than sales.
Presence was the gift. I’m not taking it for granted any more.