You dread your meetings with Joe.
Joe’s 100% transactional. All business, all the time. You feel rushed when you speak with Joe. And you don’t know how to stop the alpha-train.
Worse yet, you’re a person who values relationships. You know that everything in business works better when you have built a rich relationship with a colleague. A reciprocal business relationship energizes you.
Nothing about Joe indicates that a relationship matters to him. With you, or with anyone else. He just wants to “get it done.”
I found myself thinking of this challenge last week when I was delivering a Master Class on Influencing Skills. Building authentic and sustained business relationships, I trust this intrinsically makes sense, is a key influence lever. More influential folks are more adept at developing key stakeholder relationships.
How do you build a relationship, I was asked, with someone who is not interested in relating?
If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” ~ Fred Rogers
It’s a tough challenge. We tend to talk about hitting this wall in terms of better understanding personality differences or adapting our communication styles. This, however, is a more fundamental dilemma. How do we connect with someone who does not seem to value connection?
Let’s begin here:
- Don’t try to stop the alpha train.
- Accept that you will not have a great relationship with everyone.
- Learn to love what is.
- Focus on Joe’s assets, not his liabilities.
- And – drum roll, please – do not give up on the possibility of connecting. Because psychological evidence shows, over and over again, that no matter the personality type, no matter how “closed” a person may seem, the longing to connect runs deep. Connection is why we’re here, Carl Jung wrote. It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.
Consider the following tips as you engage with a highly transactional alpha executive. Think of them as your “disarm them” tool kit.
4 WAYS TO DISARM A TRANSACTIONAL EXECUTIVE
MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE.
Don’t force the small talk. Don’t chatter about what you and your family did over the weekend. Don’t ask her or him what they love to watch on Netflix. Let go of your preferred way of connecting, just for the moment. Make peace with transactional, because transactional is just fine.
Reframe transactional, for yourself. Transactional need not be cold, formal, unpleasant, or difficult. Transactional is focused on completing a transaction. And completing a transaction, beyond the human connection lens, can be mighty satisfying. So, relax please.
CONNECT AROUND THE PRESENT MOMENT.
Instead of bringing extraneous stories into a conversation, notice what’s happening in the present moment. If there’s a thunderstorm brewing outside of your window, mention that. If there is a vacation photo on your conversation partner’s desk, inquire about that. If there is a beautiful painting on the wall behind your colleague, acknowledge it. These are simple and safe ways to initiate a human moment that is not forced. They occur in "present reality." And your prompts may invite the other person to share more.
Gina, a Corporate Comptroller, described one such moment to me. I was on a Zoom call with my international team. Some of them I have never met in person. Archie from the UK was wearing a sweater that had this goofy design on it. I was chuckling to myself, inside, as I noticed Archie’s sweater. I wasn’t sure if I should comment on the sweater or say something cute.
If Archie wears a goofy sweater, Archie wants you to notice the sweater. It’s almost rude to not acknowledge the sweater. The sweater is literally staring you in the face. It is present-moment-reality. And acknowledging the sweater may well prompt a fun story or two.
CONNECT AROUND WORK HISTORY.
If you sense that a colleague does not wish to get into “personal stuff,” go deeper with the business content. When you are trying to solve a problem or need to make a decision, open the door to the past. How have you tackled this in the past? What was the biggest challenge you faced last time this happened? What did you learn in previous times that we should consider today?
Questions about past experience are safe. They explicitly acknowledge the other person’s experience and expertise. They will always expand a conversation and may elicit an unexpected story or insight. All wins.
Successful people rarely receive enough compliments. Here’s one thing I hear in my Executive Coaching practice all the time when we talk about paying a compliment. It always startles me. Well, I don’t want to sound like I’m sucking up to her.
Please be clear – this is your crap about giving and receiving compliments. Drop it. If you find yourself in a fast-moving transactional conversation and the other individual says something genuinely helpful or insightful, please acknowledge it. That was so helpful, Joe. I never looked at it this way before, Joe. Thank you for helping me look at this situation differently, Joe. I appreciate how you analyze a difficult situation, Joe.
Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. If you mean it, DO say it. Your comment may well open the door to a much richer conversation than you thought was possible.
Sometimes our light blows out, the theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer famously said, but is blown again into instant flame by the encounter with another person.
Think of the possibility of connection as one of those instant flames. Respect the other person’s conversational limits and personal boundaries. Do not force yourself on her or him. And, at the same time, remember that the simplest statement from you has the power to ignite the flame.
Stay in the moment. And light the match.
Related: Say “And” a Lot More Often. Please.