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Business Discussion

I spend a good amount of my time coaching executives as they prepare for important professional conversations. Yesterday, I was working with a senior executive preparing for such an interaction with a new CEO acquaintance. He was seeking tips for how best to make himself memorable to the person and rattled off what he had done so far to prepare. He had clearly done his homework and knew how to appear relevant and aware of this person’s perspective and body of work. 

I noticed he had not prepared for this: making sure the interaction was valuable for both parties. 

What he hadn’t examined and imagined was the anticipated and desired flow of the conversation, including how to co-create the outcomes that he – and the CEO – want from the interchange to make it mutually beneficial. Though he is certainly not the only leader to underinvest in this type of preparation, it is a critical ingredient for a successful interaction and creating memorability. The strategy that needs to be employed here – fine-tuning your powers of perception – is one covered in my new book, Your Finest Work: Career Fulfillment in a Complicated World, coming out this Fall.

In our coaching session, the executive and I outlined things to notice, speak to, and listen for in his chat with the person he wants to impress. Here are some takeaways from the coaching session – and my book – that you can apply to any conversation where you want both parties to walk away feeling that the interaction was time well spent. 

Practices and Tactics: 

  • After hellos, rapport building, and other openers, such as confirming the time you both have for this meeting, clarify each person’s respective objectives for the conversation. What does she want to accomplish, and what do you want to achieve? 
  • Identify and agree upon the evidence that will confirm those objectives have been met. Note: Do not move on without confirming this.
  • Discuss the matters at hand, asking open-ended questions, meaning those that can’t be answered with yes or no and often begin with what or how
  • Hold space for the other person to respond. Resist the urge to fill the silence between your questions; rather, recognize it as a sign that the person is thinking and formulating their response.
  • Mirror back what you hear in the other person’s responses to confirm understanding, using their words. Gain their buy-in that you have heard and understand their message.
  • Ask “what else?” before moving on; oftentimes, the most important ideas surface after this prompt.
  • Share your perspectives, where appropriate, throughout the conversation as you progress toward meeting both participants’ objectives for the meeting. 
  • In the last few minutes, summarize takeaways and gain agreement on next actions. 
  • Before leaving, revisit the objectives for the conversation and the evidence of those being met. Confirm what, if anything, has yet to be addressed and make a joint decision about what to do about those outstanding items.
  • Thank the person for their time, and then quickly follow up afterward with your next steps. 

This approach to a one-on-one conversation accomplishes two goals: 1) producing valuable outcomes for both parties and 2) making you memorable. The first is obvious because you course correct throughout the interaction to ensure you are meeting both parties’ objectives. You are memorable because you show the quality of your attention in how you are being with the person. In essence, you are embodying some of the core skills of a professional coach. 

I have 20 years of experience crafting conversations like these, and a Master Coach Credential in hand. I have these types of interactions day long. Don’t underestimate the value of coaching in leadership. I find executives who want to achieve greater impact in their careers with less effort can benefit from practicing these skills.

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