The importance of… good conversations

Going to see potential clients for the first time is interesting. You hope the rapport will be good, you know what you would like to say and have many questions you’d like to ask. The opportunity is full of potential, you’ve done your research, emailed, put in a proposal, spoken on the phone but the prospect of meeting your opposite team is exciting and meaningful.

It’s surprising how much you can pick up about an organisation by standing in the company’s reception. The architecture, flooring, art on the walls, the amount of light and space, magazines on the coffee table, people coming and going, nodding and noting your arrival. All are clues as to how the organisation sees itself and how it wishes to present itself to you. Then you are greeted in person, hopefully with smiles, warmth and promise of a good coffee as you walk to the meeting room.

Occasionally the door opens to reveal a team of ten when you were prepared for three. You readjust and calculate where you and your colleagues should sit. The nature of a good conversation varies radically by the number of people attending. One or two and you can afford to have a friendly, in depth discussion about the company and the task at hand. Five to ten and you are a facilitator, asking questions and endeavouring to direct the flow of conversation to gain the insights you are seeking.

This stewardship is a skill and is delivered with a blend of courtesy, effective questioning, patient listening and good humour. Empathy and experience should bind the two sides together and the formation of a project should be akin to drawing back the string of a bow. As the objectives are discussed and clarified the tension of the bow increases. The brief that is drawn from this initial meeting is the arrow. In a sense your response or eventual score is only as accurate as the questions you ask and the conversations you have conducted.

Often briefs change, parameters extend and beliefs are challenged. This process can be both rewarding and demanding as gathering opinions from all present requires limitless tact and tenacity. However it is worth the effort. The better the conversation at the beginning, the better the solution at the end.