“Do not flush while seated on toilet” was a sign I noticed for the first time on the shuttle south on Monday, a fact that’s good to know if I ever need to sit.
Signs giving clues what not to do while seated in a boardroom are more subtle, but you need to know which buttons to press. Have you heard the one about the Expressive, the Driver and the Analyst at the business development meeting?
Three people I had never met, a CEO and two Directors, in a tall Birmingham building, interested in a Rainmaker programme for their IT consultancy.
Inside five minutes I knew the CEO was an Expressive with a touch of Amiable: loads of easy chat, personal insights and warmth. We will call her Ms. EA. I had a notion the other person in the room was likely an Analyst: quiet, reflective and sitting two chairs away on the other side. By 15 minutes in, when he said his first words in the form of a question about how support works after the programme, I had him as Mr. AA, an Analyst with a bit of Amiable.
Around 15 seconds after the third actor sat down I was sure he was a Driver Driver, Mr. DD.
In the next 45 minutes my aim was to leave with a commitment to send a proposal at best, or at worst commitment to another meeting. Spoiler: I got the former.
Here are the key learning points:
As CEO Ms. EA set the agenda and we were straight into small talk about how terrific Birmingham is, neither of us being locals. Business talk and small talk ebbed and flowed for nearly ten minutes until Mr. DD arrived and we immediately got to why we were there.
Three key points for dealing with the Expressive/Amiable:
- Be intensely curious and enthusiastic. Ask inspired questions about their stories as there will be a more than a few stories. We went from Birmingham to London to Middle East to previous careers to Scotland and then holidays in various European destinations. If you are an Analyst up your energy levels and share a few bon mots. Go with it.
- Add your own anecdotes. Without outdoing their stories since it’s not a competition, or if it is Ms. EA should win. Always finish your story with a killer question that passes the baton back. Especially if you are a fellow Expressive, be thinking about great questions that show you are fully engaged with their chat rather than speaking in the first person.
- Be patient and resist the urge to sell. The small talk can travel over vast terrain, but eventually bring it all back to why you are there and what they might want. But be prepared for one step forward and two steps back as the Expressive part goes off on another tangential journey. Drivers especially beware of showing impatience to get to the end point.
Mr. AA had a financial remit and sat quietly for 15 minutes, saying hardly a word other than a necessary hello. His first intervention, some time after I had scoped what a Rainmaker programme might look like, was to ask how many could be on it, what support might be available afterwards and suggest that some of the group might need something more basic than a high level, intensive sales programme. He wanted detail and had palpable worries than this might be too much for both him and his managers.
Three key points for dealing with the Analyst/Amiable:
- Don’t worry about the quiet demeanour. It’s thinking and reflecting time. Avoid the temptation to force involvement too early though this does not apply if there are only two of you in the room. Mr. AA quite happily took everything in, made a few notes and read the newsletter I put in front of everyone after 10 minutes. There was no rush and nothing to be gained by rushing him. If you are an expressive dial it back a bit.
- Display your knowledge by giving some detail. Show you know your processes and will deliver on the nuts and bolts since to Mr. AA the details matter. Kirkpatrick Level three and four was a good way to show how outcomes matter more than what happens in the room. This led to a mild interrogation about outcomes and support that allowed some short pitches about the benefits and outcomes of the programme. Refer back to points made by others in the room when doing this.
- Empathise. There was a good deal of Amiable in Mr. AA and a palpable worry about inflicting this development on everyone; Ms. EA was also in this orbit, while Mr. DD was on another planet. Confirm you hear the fears expressed, name them, and explain that they would be in safe hands. There was an interesting vignette where I explained exactly what we like to do to support learning after the programme with follow-up workshops and coaching and the like. I then turned to Mr. DD and told him straight that there was no possibility of them agreeing to this because it is costly.
Mr. DD arrived more than five minutes late with a perfunctory apology. As an Expressive/Driving style, personally this was fine; if you are an Amiable don’t imagine it’s personal. He immediately launched into his view on training programmes in general, he is not a fan, before embarking on a fierce interrogation: what we achieve, how we achieve it and who we have done it with. At best sceptical about all of this, he bluntly stated there was no need for it and continued in this vein for much of meeting.
Three key points dealing with the Driver/Driver:
- Match Mr.DD in terms of tone, language and body language. Be assertive without tipping into aggression, especially if you are interrupted (you will be, often). Give yourself time to assess whether it’s an opening ploy or nerves but once you are sure be up for going toe to toe. But not too much time. If you are not a natural at this it will likely feel over the top so you might practise with the parrot at home: a bit more volume, lots of eye contact, sitting forward, making statements rather than asking questions.
- Agree with some of Mr.DD’s points, if possible immediately as he makes them. When he spoke about the uncertain nature of showing the benefit of business development training I agreed, that much evidence is qualitative and to be treated with caution and success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. Then I gave statistics on our longest running business development programme for a blue chip client, some headline stats and offered a call with the client.
- Disagree with something he says. This is not difficult as there will be plenty to choose from. Pick a subject area where you are on solid ground or something too far out there to be ignored. Or simply deliberately pick a debate. Stay calm when you are doing this but remain up for it. When Mr. DD bluntly stated that some people simply could never learn this stuff I countered that for senior consultants these skills were not an optional extra, that some will inevitably be better than others and people unable to do any of this should not be on the bus.
Consider your own Social Style.
As Mr. ED I am happy to go toe to toe with Mr. DD and chew the fat with Ms. EA as long as she likes. My biggest challenge is Mr. AA, who needs more empathy than I might naturally display and more detail than I would normally give. YouTube can show you what happens at 35,000 feet and the outcome is always the same. The scenarios that challenge you most in the boardroom are more nuanced and the outcomes many. Work on the pushing the buttons that flush out the issues.
WHAT SOCIAL STYLE ARE YOU?
If you’ve never discovered your social style, take 5 and complete this test. This link also give you an overview of each one if you’d like more information.
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive and is an expert on . If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.