Last week, we talked about getting clarity on outcomes. This week, we’ll focus on other types of agreements you can make up front at a meeting or in a one-on-one. Both are ways of answering the question many of us ask (at least in our heads) as we walk into such an engagement. What am I getting into? Just like asking, “What’s your point?”, asking that question directly may not get you the result you’re seeking. But there are plenty of other ways to get it answered.
What is Your Intention?
We’ve somehow convinced ourselves it’s rude to ask people about their intentions. Maybe it feels like we’re suspicious of their motives. Or maybe you think that if you ask what they are hoping to get from a conversation, they might just say, “Never mind. I don’t want to talk now.” Highly unlikely. And frankly, if that is their response to asking for clarity, I would not want to talk to them anyway.
Sandler sales training is probably the best known for this concept of an upfront contract or agreement. Lots of other people have had a spin on it. The part I’m most interested in is where we are just slowing things down for a moment. And then agreeing on how we want to proceed.
This is about honoring the other person involved in the conversation. It’s also about making sure you are both (or all, if it’s a group) clear on how the conversation should unfold. Rules of the proverbial sandbox, if you will. It’s about getting clear on how to conduct yourself in a manner that respects what everyone has agreed is important. That goes way beyond just agreeing to the outcomes or topics. This is about behavior.
Practical application is my thing, as you probably know by now. So let’s deal in some practical examples of how this can be used.
- The most critical thing to agree on up front is how much time you have. There’s nothing worse than going into a conversation anticipating having an hour, only to find out the other person has to leave after 20 minutes. I used to think you could overcome this through meeting requests. After all, the calendar makes you pick a start and end time. But I’ve learned my lesson after getting cut short or going waaaaaay too long one too many times. Ask up front. Then you can adjust accordingly if your expectations don’t match.
- This might not be a comfortable one. Yet, it’s one that we hear about quite often when working with teams. How do you feel about phones during a meeting or conversation? Would you prefer to agree up front that you’ll ignore them or turn them off? Or will you hope that the other person won’t take a call in the middle of the point you’re trying to make? Or is this something by which you are not bothered? Does the other person/people agree?
- For some people, this will elicit an eye roll. For others, you will secretly hope someone else will bring it up. Do you need to get or give permission to interrupt? This is particularly relevant when meeting with someone at a level above or below yours. Is it just an understanding that’s already there? Perhaps you don’t dare to interrupt because it’s your boss. But if you’re the boss, maybe you’d welcome an interruption from your team member if it helps the conversation. Conversely, sometimes we want the chance to get through a whole presentation of an idea without interruption. And then we’re happy to discuss. Not a bad thing to simply clarify up front.
- Other ground rules. Time, phones and permission are the big ones we’ve seen come up the most. But maybe you have others. Anything relevant to helping the meeting/conversation go more smoothly and get where it needs to go fits here. Clarify, clarify, clarify.
Great! I will just tell them what I want.
The final, and probably most critical, part of this process is to get agreement. That’s why they’re called “Up front Agreements”. If you are just laying out your expectations without getting explicit buy in and agreement from whomever you’re with, it’s just you. You’re the only one agreeing to it. A simple, “Does that sound okay to you?” will suffice. If there’s tension or conflict, a slightly more in-depth check might be warranted. But do get agreement. Otherwise, how will you hold them to it if things start to get off track?
Getting agreement on outcomes and the logistics of how you’ll get there go hand in hand. It may surprise you how far apart you are from your meeting partner(s). Or how close together you are. Either way, knowing and agreeing up front can save time, and save relationships. Happy clarifying!