I often tell my son to make eye contact when people speak with him, to not multi-task and to be clearly present. Not only is it courteous and respectful to do this, it is also a way to show empathy and connection. My son is 14- he gets it.
So, let me tell you about an experience I had recently. I was asked to present a proposal to the senior executives of a large company to train their team to become trusted advisors. This would have been a very important piece of work for me- in many ways. The challenge was fantastic and the revenue large, the credibility I would have gained would certainly have helped my business. Of course, I was excited to do this.
Have you ever had the experience of meeting somebody and in 30 seconds getting a bad vibe? And then dismissing it because it seems irrational to make a judgement that quickly. So you reprimand yourself about jumping to conclusions and ignore what you thought- but there is something nagging at you. You don’t have a good feeling.
My moment happened when I received a less than warm response to my handshake and the senior leaders did not walk beside me and my client contact on the way to the boardroom? What was that all about- trailing behind by a significant distance. Was that a display of power? Of letting me know I shouldn’t get too friendly or comfortable? Isn’t the idea of these meetings to make your guest feel welcome- even if the guest is ‘only a vendor’?
Things went downhill when one of the executives did not take his eyes or fingers off his blackberry for the entire meeting. What was the message to me? He was a busy person (and of course I couldn’t be as busy as he was). He was obviously a VIP since he couldn’t be disconnected for half an hour ( more important than I was). And what I was saying was so completely disinteresting/unimportant/insignificant/trivial that it wasn’t worthy of his attention and focus. When he did chime in, it was usually with a pointed critique with a series of comments/questions intended to cause discomfort.
At the end of this miserable meeting, I was not only disinterested in working for this client, but I did not like this person. Did I trust him? Absolutely not. Did I think he had the capability to be a trusted advisor? Not at this stage. He had a lot to learn about treating people with courtesy and respect.
And as for the revenue? Not everything in life is about money. As a colleague told me when I related this to him, I’d rather be poor than miserable. And what this client needs to learn is that the community is very small and trust is hard to come by. Reputations are built and lost on these types of encounters.
Being present is all about being in the moment. Trust isn’t built after the fact. It happens with each and every encounter, every conversation, every email. We enter relationships with trust as a default- it is yours to lose. Behave as this executive did and you not only lose the little trust you had (the trust we give everybody as a sort of headstart), but you have to live with a damaged reputation.
So much easier to be aware, attentive and courteous. Like my 14 year old son.