March 27, 2019
How often have you come out of a meeting and thought, ‘I could have been so productive instead of being in there’? How many times have you dropped off a call with a dull ringing in your ears and a film over your eyes? Do you sometimes feel like you and your colleagues are just flapping your faces to prove that you can?
You know it’s true. We all feel it from time to time – the niggling suspicion that the meeting in which you’ve been imprisoned is a charade, a poorly staged play in which every actor takes the role of Really Serious Business Person.
Why should that be? Meetings and calls are supposed to be a space for clarity and speed. They’re supposed to cut through the noise, not add extra droning sounds. When you really want something done, you pull out the big guns: ‘have you got five minutes to sit down on this?’
And yet we yawn and we nod and we groan inwardly with the pain of enormous boredom. We fret that we’ll be found out. And we retreat behind a mask. That being the case, something must be getting lost in translation.
The other day I had a meeting with a very senior client, and he cracked it. He was the consummate professional, a significant presence in the room, but he also giggled like a schoolboy and swore like a genteel docker. He made jokes at his own expense, and at the expense of his industry. He told us about the personal happenings that had affected his day, big and small. And through it all, his expertise and his passion for what he did shone out.
When the awkward parts of the conversation came up – results vs targets, lack of messaging, foggy branding – we breezed right through them. He’d set the tone – honesty was ok, so long as it was underpinned by professionalism. We had the chats, we told the truth and we moved on.
Yes, he held the power in that room. But I’ve met plenty of SVPs in the same dynamic who were as stiff as a practiced board. What this guy showed was the power of personality, not just for the one with the upper hand, but for the whole meeting. People communicate more effectively and are more willing to be honest when they’re not constantly checking their façade for cracks.
Beneath it all is the question of trust. Do you trust your clients to believe you’re a professional? Do your clients trust you to be a professional? And can that trust survive if you let a little of your personality show through the suit?
I think it can. We need to be bolder, and move away from the imposter syndrome that keeps us all parroting the same tropes. No, we shouldn’t descend into slack-jawed inefficacy, but equally, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak our minds from time to time. I know it comes as a relief to me when it happens – and it’s good for client relationships as well.