When I reached 1 Million mile status on both Air Canada and Delta airlines, I stopped counting. Suffice it to say that I have travelled a great deal. While there are advantages and disadvantages to travel, one enduring benefit is the ability to meet new people. When you join the higher echelons of the frequent flyer programs, it is rare to be travelling coach. I have had the opportunity over the years to be “seat-mates” in first class with former Canadian Prime Ministers Kim Campbell and John Turner, Former Premier (Ontario) Bob Rae, Goldie Hawn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldie_Hawn , Ivana Trump, James Belushi, a host of international CxO’s and of course hundreds of road warriors like myself flying on a frequent flyer upgrade coupon. On a short flight it is pretty easy to ignore your seat-mate but add a few hours of flight time and there’s a pretty good chance you will get to know your neighbor.
Consultants when working with their clients progress from unknown/untrusted to “some rapport” to “open communication” to “trusted”. It is a process. The better we are at developing rapport, the better we are at communicating, the faster we will progress along the path to become a trusted advisor to our clients. We can add the most value as a trusted advisor. I am pleased to say that many of my clients look upon me as a trusted advisor and in some cases I have retained that trust over decades. It is not a status that is granted easily and it is one that must be earned.
I arrived at LAX and got on a flight for Toronto, upgraded to first class as usual. I took my seat and a moment later was joined by Goldie Hawn in the seat next to me. She turned to me, looked me right in the eye, gave me a big smile and said “and you are…?”. I replied. “Well Hi Ian, I guess we’ll be travelling together, I’m going up to Muskoka, we have a place there and ….” And the multi-hour conversation started. So for the consultant in me I had just received a few tips from a world expert in establishing rapport…
– Initiate the conversation
– Start with questions to show you are interested
– Look them in eye, be friendly
– Tell them why you’re there.
In about 60 seconds, I went from being dumbfounded that I was sitting next to Goldie Hawn, to completely at ease, as if we were old friends just travelling up to the cottage for the week. She was showing genuine interest in my life, my concerns and was casual and open about her plans for the week. An hour into the flight I realized another key consulting skill at work.
Goldie was asking way more questions than answering them. By doing so, the conversation was really in her control. Pleasantly, casually but the topics and direction of the conversation was really of her choosing. I wonder how many times as consultants we end up in defensive positions, being peppered by questions instead being able to get to the core issues simply because we don’t control the direction by asking more questions.
– Ask questions to control the flow and direction of meeting.
Goldie would ask questions that required thought and complex answers, no simple binary yes/no’s. Example: Tell me what you like most about living in Canada. This provides the opportunity to talk more, provide more insight and potentially find new areas of discussion. We wandered all over the map on discussion topics during the flight. The counter example would be: “Do you like living in Canada?” that elicits only as yes or no answer.
– Don’t ask questions that have binary yes/no answers. Ask questions that require more input. How to feel about? What do you think about? Questions that allow them to give you perception not just facts.
As consultants, I think we can all learn from Goldie. I suspect there are very few people on the planet that after seeing her in on TV, in a movie or had the privilege of meeting her in person could not feel some sort of connection. By the way, yes she is just as funny and just as beguiling in person as she appears to be in the movies.
In contrast 2 of the 3 notable political figures I have travelled with were effectively inert making me think that if Goldie had been Canadian and interested in politics instead of Hollywood, she would have been our Prime Minister for many, many years.
The power of establishing rapport…