I’ve recently read Alan Palmer’s book titled Talk Lean sub-titled “Shorter meetings / Quicker results / Better relationships”. What one takes away from the book will vary depending on expertise, background etc… But the focus of Alan’s book, running efficient meetings, is something I deeply care about. So I read Alan’s book with great interest. For better or worst, here are 3 (not all) take aways.
Agree a tangible output upfront
Alan recommends to define and upfront a measurable, transparent and observable end of the meeting. And to share this with the person attending the meeting. In a clear, respectful and direct manner. This is similar to the “up front contract” I use, defined in the Sandler sales methodogy. Of course, it’s critical, to have a clear output in mind, to invest time and prepare notes. I personally struggle to make these up in the lift to the meeting. What I took away from Alan’s book is the importance on the observable / measurable aspect. However, after a long meeting, it is easy to forget about the agreed output. So what I tend to do at the end of a meeting is also to get back to the initial objective and review it. I usually have no problem doing so as I’ve defined the ideal output upfront. Bye bye so-called “interesting meetings”.
These small words that help to really listen actively
Pretty much everybody knows about “active listening”. But in Talk Lean, Alan has an interesting take that goes beyond the generic definition of “active listening”. It boils down to the importance of all these apparently not so important words that we use at the start of sentences. Let me take the example that Alan has in his book to make it clear. The context he uses is a follow-up sales meeting. The prospect has a statement along these lines:
“I’ve been looking at your documentation. It’s very interesting but, at first glance, I think this is a little bit over-engineered for our needs. And officially all our budgets are frozen until the end of the year”
Clearly, it is easier to understand how the above can be misunderstood while reading it rather than hearing it in a meeting. In a live situation, we constantly only hear two parts of this statement: “over-engineered for our needs” and “our budgets are frozen”. And consequently, try to understand why there is an issue of over engineering or be annoyed there is nothing to be done before next year. We’re often taking note in meetings and tend to focus on the perceived “essence”, the two possibly negative messages in this case. However, the real meat to dig into to understand the perspective of the prospect are, of course, “it’s very interesting” “a little bit”, “officially”. These are the routes to explore. And, in the note taking exercise, these are the words we should write down as they are the ones carrying a lot of meaning.
How to Talk Lean and ask good questions to understand the other party well
Human being are hugely complex and communicating in whole different (and generally sub-efficient!) ways. So Alan’s point is to focus on these seemingly not important words. Clearly, on the example above, the “it’s very interesting” or “a little bit” or “officially” could be a soft way to announce that there is no budget or the product is too complex. On the flip side, the prospect took a meeting. A no over email would have been his or her fastest route. So he or she surely wants to discuss.
These are the points to focus the conversation. That’s where the title of the book, Talk Lean, takes a lot of sense. There is a whole range of ways to ask questions, here are some options:
1- I understand there are a fair amount of challenges to overcome (to acknowledge the possible hurdles). In the same time, it’s good to hear it’s very interesting. What makes you say so?
2- When you say a little bit over engineered, what part of the documentation do your refer to?
3- When you say “officially”, it seems you have in mind a possible way forward?
One interesting approach of Alan is to share openly what goes in one’s mind and ask the prospect to clarify. For example with questions such as (my personal sauce, read the book for more specifics):
1- You are saying it’s interesting which makes me think there is some room to collaborate. Can you share what you specifically think is interesting?
2- When you are saying it is a little bit over engineer, I am hearing that there isn’t a massive gap to close to make it suited to your needs. Am I correct and, if so, what should we focus on?
3- I understand securing a budget is always difficult. And when you say “officially”, I am telling myself you have some views on how we could jointly work to come up with a solution?
As mentioned, human interactions are really complex. That’s one of the reason sales is so fascinating and, admittedly, complex. If you find the above possibly relevant, I strongly recommend to read it Talk Lean for more insights. I have read it 3 or 4 months ago. And I pick up my copy from time to time to flick through the parts I have highlighted. I always find it to be a useful exercise to refresh myself. Finally, I’ll share shortly some take aways from two other books I’ve read recently. In the same time, I am always in the look out for good reads. So if you have some recommendations, do not hesitate to share.