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After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Mark 9:33-35

Years ago I had a coffee appointment with a fellow member of a group I belonged to. The group-determined goals for such meetings were two-fold: get to know the other member better and learn how to talk to your own social circle about that member’s product. It was a brilliant way to foster more invested relationships in the organization we represented.

However, there was “a fly in the ointment,” as the expression goes. The meeting strategy depended on three important assumptions:

  1. A curiosity about each other.
  2. A commitment to the guidelines of the meeting and to shared benefits of the meeting.
  3. And a willingness to put personal aggrandizement aside and look to the other’s story.

However, I found that time-after-time that the assumptions were not in operation. The one-hour meetings were often monologues about the other person’s life and business and not about how we could help each other out with our respective pursuits.

Of course, it is impossible to change the other person’s goals for the meeting. But it is possible to change one’s own goals, and perhaps, by influence, the other person’s as well. What a difference it would make to meetings if “we” did a little bit of strategic preparation that would look like this:

  • First of all, ask oneself what 3-5 pieces of information you would like to have as a result of the conversation. Knowing that causes one to think about what questions need to be asked to get this information.
  • Second, it is good to think about how you, yourself, could sabotage the meeting. Think about how you can avoid trying to turn the conversation on yourself. Conversation about YOU is the property and initiative of the other. Any talk about yourself should always be in response to questions you are asked by the other.
  • Third, if possible, a review of the goals for the meeting are in order. This insures that both of the conversation partners agree to and follow the goals and guidelines of the organization for these coffee appointments.

Informal conversations with friends and family are not subject to such well-organized goals. Nevertheless, the principles of the business group still apply to all human interactions: curiosity about the other, giving way to the other and lifting them up, and reining in one’s inclination to hog the conversation with “me’ stuff.

These principles would certainly make conversations more productive in promoting the shared relationships.

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