You have surely heard someone say that business is all about relationships and that people do business with other people, not with companies. So much truth lies in those statements-- but what do they actually mean, on a practical basis?
Well, for starters, it means you should act like a human being and see your colleagues as human beings, and not as numbers or dollar signs. But on an even more granular scale, it means that you should understand human psychology when conducting business meetings.
If all parties feel comfortable in a business meeting, the chances of that meeting accomplishing its goal increase exponentially. So how do you make the person you are sitting with open up and feel comfortable with you? Start with these three questions:
Tell me about you and your work. What are you most excited about?
People like talking about themselves. And even if they feel awkward doing it, everyone likes to have their work recognized and their accomplishments acknowledged.
Start every meeting by asking the person you are sitting with to tell you about themselves and their work. You will find that even the most introverted person will be delighted by that question, and it will frame the whole meeting.
By asking the person about their work, you are labeling yourself as a caring and selfless person who cares more about others than about yourself. That is the type of person with whom people like to collaborate.
What is the context/agenda of the meeting?
This is something that should happen automatically even before the meeting starts. When asking someone to meet, it is important to explain the context of why you want to meet, so that expectations are aligned. If no one specifies the context before the meeting, it is important to define it as the meeting begins.
By spelling it out, the meeting is now framed properly and you both know what you hope to accomplish by the end of the meeting. Alternatively, if the expectations are misaligned that what that person expects from you is actually not something you can deliver, that is also important information to have before you spend the next hour of your time trying to achieve the impossible.
What are your current challenges and how can I help you overcome them?
This is the most important question of the three and something I have literally asked in every one of the thousands of meetings I have had over the past decade.
Everyone has challenges, and nine times out of 10 when I ask this question, the person's eyes light up. This question brings immediate delight because it shows that you want to help and you are interested in the challenges the person you are sitting with faces.
I like to ask this question as the meeting is nearing its end, because it leaves the person with a positive taste regarding the entire encounter.
Additionally, more often than not, their challenges are low hanging fruit for you and you can actually help them in a meaningful way with minimum effort, which brings even more delight to the relationship.
The bottom line is this: When a business meeting is conducted in a calm and comfortable environment, everyone who is present gains. You should make it your aim to ensure that the chemistry in the room is optimized for collaboration by making everyone feel comfortable and significant. These three questions are a good start to achieving that goal.