Actually, I take both of these variations as blessings in disguise. The introductions that I make are generally to people of substance that I would not have treated in this manner. In these cases I simply remove the individuals from my contact list – for me they cease to exist except as hazards to warn people to avoid. But let’s get back to the nightmare by assuming that the person arrives on time.
In return for the odor of my jasmine, I’d like all the odor of your roses.
Now the meeting starts. I came with the objective of verifying my assumptions about what is important to this person and identifying ways that I can help them by providing opportunities, contacts and assistance. I start with a focus on the materials I have been able to review. I often take the lead in order to set the pattern for the meeting. My own style is to focus sharply on those opportunities and resources that I can bring to the relationship – and identify those which will be of most immediate value to the other person.
I often continue with “Tell me what you are looking for and why?” In a small number of cases the response is effectively “I don’t know – I haven’t thought it out!” This kind of response almost always sets me to trying to find a way to shut the meeting down and go on to more productive activities ASAP. One particular version of the response is “I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up.” My standard response to this is “I don’t deal with children. Go home and grow up – let me know when you can manage to engage as an adult.” Again, for me, it is time to move on to more productive doings.
But let’s say that the person has something approaching an adult and proportionate understanding of their skill sets, resources and needs and has been thoughtful enough to review my background and connections to have formed an idea of how I might be of help to them. I will want to drill down sufficiently to understand how I might most productively contribute to their interests. I enjoy finding out about them and identifying ways that I can be of help. Those of you who know me well or have visited the Longview website know that there are a wide range of such possibilities – that I have a far flung network of contacts – and that I am always willing to help people who I respect, like and trust – and who return the sentiments.
By now I may have identified a handful of opportunities for me to contribute value. My tendency is to identify one or two that are doable within a relatively short time scale (a kind of test set). Delivering on these will give me a good idea of how well they (and subsequently more important matters) will be handled (a measure of the kind of person I have just met). I summarize them one by one and highlight the actions that I am going to take. So by now I have my action items – and it is time to see if the highway is one or two lanes.
I have no roses; all the flowers in my garden are dead.
At this point the conversation should naturally turn around. The other person should take the lead in moving the focus on to identifying ways that they can be of help to me. Sometimes it becomes obvious that they have decided that the meeting has achieved their objectives and is properly over. In a way it is, but not in the way that they tend to see it. When reversing the flow doesn’t happen, I automatically mentally trash my notes and begin thinking about other, more productive, things.
I am sure that I am not unique in this – or at least I hope that is the case. I don’t offer or accept many purely speculative meetings. The process usually starts with a fair amount of confidence that there should be a two lane highway possible – with something more than sporadic traffic in both directions. By this I mean that I have done enough diligence on the person to have a strong suspicion that they are capable of bringing me significant opportunities in one of my ‘sweet spots’ and that they are the kind of person that I am likely to come to trust and enjoy getting to know – the kind that I would feel comfortable bringing into situations where the interests of my good friends are at stake.
The most common dead end occurs when it becomes apparent that they have not given the question much thought at all. The dominance of “I need” has brought them to the meeting and that has been their focus from the beginning. The question “OK, what’s in it for me?” is only allowed to be spoken by them and answered by me. The converse is unthinkable. In extreme cases, when I ask “OK, what’s in it for me?” the offered response becomes effectively “the joy of helping me.” Yeah, well I’ve had enough of that kind of joy to last a lifetime – let’s split the check and get out of here – this meeting has turned into a kamikaze raid on a vacant lot!