Leaking the truth? Don’t ignore the leak.

Leaking all over Freud's famous sofa...

I once worked with someone I found most confusing. Until I realised it was me, not them, that confused things (light bulb!). So I thought I'd write about it.

At the time, I was young and inexperienced – fearful of very senior people and very keen to make a good impression with a ‘yes’/’can do’ attitude at all costs. I received a meeting request from a very senior individual’s secretary. The title for the meeting was ‘Training’. It was for 30 minutes at 11am.

To show my keenness, I sent a flowery pre-meeting email introducing myself and attaching a couple of documents showing training programmes running in departments similar to the one this individual led. No response.

At 10:50, I put on a tie and scurried along to the meeting, full of anticipation and (if I’m honest) nerves. When I arrived at 10:59, the individual was on the phone. Gesturing to me with one finger (pointing to a chair that was facing a wall next to their desk), I obediently sat down and waited. 10:05, still on the phone. 1015, still on the phone. 10:25, still on the phone. 10:29, the individual covered the mouthpiece on their phone and simply said ‘I’ve got no time for this now’ and then continued their call. I sat for a further 5-10 seconds and then smiled awkwardly and left sheepishly.

Back at my desk, I was raging angry. And upset. They had arranged the meeting! They didn’t reply to my pre-meeting email! They ignored me whilst I sat there like a wally! It was humiliating. They were RUDE!

The thing is, rude or not – it’s all irrelevant. Looking back, I ignored the clear behavioural preference signs they were sending (or, in Freudian language 'leaking' to) me. What potential signs?

  1. I’m busy and important – I spend most of my time doing (or looking like I’m doing) urgent and important things. At least that’s what I like to think…so respect it

  2. I don’t want much to read before a meeting, give it to me straight – be outcome focused, quick and pragmatic

  3. I don’t do rapport or 'touchy feely' stuff when I’m busy (or at all at work!)

Whether or not I perceived the above as rude, I still needed to meet their client needs. Perhaps, therefore, I needed to view this situation through a different behavioural ‘lens’ – what were they trying to tell me, subconsiously, through their behaviour? Was I ignoring these signs? Was I thinking from their world, not mine?

After some reflection and a chat with my boss, I had a plan. The next time it happened I turned up similarly prepared but this time much more focused (channelling more ‘Red energy’ you might say…). Seeing them not on the phone this time but tapping away on their keyboard, I sat down and said to this individual, very calmly and politely, ‘So, [NAME], I see you have put 30 minutes in the diary today for this meeting to discuss training. I’d love to help. If you’re still ok to talk now, what specifically would you like to discuss? I do have a meeting right after this one so I am conscious of time’.

The response? They gave me their full attention. And immediately. Why? Probably because I was succinct, results/client-focused and assertive with my words and totally engaged in my non-verbals (I sat straight up facing them with full eye contact, a smile and poised/ready to take notes), listening and not talking as much as possible.

I have to admit that the meeting was interrupted half-way through and we finished after 15 minutes but by that time I had some indication as to next steps to manage the issue for my client because we got straight to business. And they got 15 minutes back. Three chargeable units...

It was win-win. Even though, if I'm honest, they were a bit rude.

#communication #followership #authenticity

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