HYCS #15 – How an Entering Meeting is Like a Dog Park

What can dogs teach us about the entering meeting?  Everything.

Word Count:  832

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Assignment Time: Negligible

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“Maude, you’re so good with people.”

“Of course – They’re my species.”

(From the movie “Harold and Maude”)

“I don’t understand dog parks.  The one in my town is a tiny fenced-in patch of dirt without any shade.  The owners sit there in the blazing sun, and the dogs can’t run.  Why do people love them so?”

Kelley lives in Seattle with 2 Basenjis.  She loves her local dog park.  She looks at me carefully before answering.  Really, she looks at me the way you look at someone who has just said something so crazy you wonder if you should call 911 and have them restrained.

“It’s a blast! I see the same people there everyday, which is part of it.  But the best part is watching what happens to my dogs.  They work out all these complicated social interactions so quickly.  Every day is different, even with the same dogs.  it’s fascinating.”

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Dogs know how to get acquainted and find out what’s really going on before they jump in.

First, they sniff

Dogs know how to get acquainted and find out what’s really going on.  Not what you were led to believe is going on or hope is going on, but that is really going on.   The sniffing behavior moves quickly from the nose to the rear which is where the really important information is stored.

Second, they test what they learned before jumping in

Dogs do this by playing.  They bare their teeth and growl.  They roughhouse and snap at each other.  They bump into each other on purpose.  They are learning valuable information, such as, Will you play with me?  Which of us is the alpha dog? Are you as friendly as you seem?

Third, it’s a 2-way conversation.

Both dogs participate.  They each sniff.  They each reveal their secrets.  It’s an egalitarian exchange.  They get acquainted first.

This is exactly what you want in your first meeting with a client.  Before you start digging around in their business objectives and asking difficult questions about their project, you have to sniff and test.  Before you start trying to win their trust by saying smart things or promising the moon, you have to nose around and bump into them.  Are they willing to play with you?  Which of you is the alpha dog?  Is there room for a partnership?  Is what they want you to do going to help or harm their business?  Are they still hoping, or have they settled?

And don’t forget about the 2-way conversation:  You’ve got to let them get to know you, too.  You’ve got to be sniffed.

Using a ritual approach

Dogs approach each other respectfully, one step at a time.  If a dog moves too quickly, he’ll find himself getting snapped at.   It’s a dance every dog knows how to do.

You can have a ritual approach too.   Ritual approaches keep you from moving so quickly you miss important information.

Ritual Approach #1:  Client Consultation Worksheet.

Use a Client Consultation Worksheet to guide your conversation. You can show it to your client and fill it out together:

Client Consultation Worksheet

1. Your situation and goals. (what you want)



2. Your organization and/or the key players.  



3. Your approach thus far.   



4. Your concerns. 





5. Advice, consultation or support that would be helpful. 



Ritual Approach #2:  The Back-of-the-Napkin Evaluation

Why not start a conversation or project by evaluating what’s been done so far?   Using a simple plus-delta (what’s working and what do we/you want to change) is especially useful with an existing client with whom you’ve done several projects.  I use this ritual with my ongoing clients.  If we need to press the restart button on some aspect of our work together, the list of deltas (changes we want to make) helps us do that.

For a new client, focus the plus-delta on what the client has done so far.  For a repeat client, focus on the last project you worked on together so you can each contribute to the list.  If you are in a 3-way conversation with a gatekeeper, involve the gatekeeper as well.

Plus (What worked) Delta (What we’ll change for next time)




Both of these ritual approaches use a piece of paper as a focal point.  Whenever you and your client are staring at and making marks on the same piece of paper or screen, it’s soothing.  Knowing what’s next is calming.  The ritual and the paper make the work or problem seem more manageable and less personal.  If you are having client meetings without using a piece of paper that’s part of a ritual, you are working much, much harder than you need to.

Your Assignment:

Take one of these ritual approaches for a test drive at your next entering meeting with a client. Let me know how it goes for you.