Someone very smart once told me that the real work of business leadership is the conversations you have with other people to get them to do what’s needed.
And one of the most common complaints I hear from executives is that they’re having difficulty getting people to do what they want them to do.
My “diagnosis” of the problem is that far too often, our business conversations are about the past — what happened — instead of the future, where all the action is.
Of course, you can’t skip the facts and just t just start talking about the future, you have to learn what you can in an efficient way, and then begin talking about what to do next.
If you don’t believe that too much time is spent on the past, track what happens in your next meeting … keep a sheet of paper divided into three columns … past-present-future, and put a little check mark in the column that corresponds to what people are talking about.
Some people have found that about 85% of their meetings are taken up by discussions about things that already happened.
It’s not that there shouldn’t be any discussion of the past, but you want to quickly move from the past to discussion about the future and what you envision happening.
You then shift from the future to the present, when you request actions.
To format your request for action:
* Say exactly what you want
* Say exactly when you want it
* Say exactly who you want it from
Then, get a proper response, which might be any of the following:
* They accept
* They decline
* They counter offer
* They promise to reply later
Anything other than the options above are obstacles or “stallers.” Here are some examples of “non” responses:
* “I’ll think about it.”
* “I’ll look into that.”
* “I’ll try.”
* “That’s a great idea.”
The take-home message: Managing a business conversation is a three-step process:
* Get enough facts (past) to understand the reality of the situation.
* Shift the conversation into the future to talk about possibilities, solutions, and options.
* Shift into the present to discuss actions, next steps and deadlines.
At the end of a good business conversation, it should be very clear who will do what, and when you will circle back to discuss progress on action steps.