HYCS #23 – When the Entering Meeting is Going Nowhere

When even your best skills can’t get you and your client to clarity, it’s time to try another way.

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Word Count: 797

Reading Time: well under 4 minutes

Assignment Time: This is one of those “just do it” assignments; it requires no additional time

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Kids are natural negotiators.  They know what they want and are show an unwavering commitment to it.  They will wear your down with their persistence, astonish with their creativity and amaze with their easy grasp of strategy.  They don’t mind that you get irritated when they won’t accept “No” for an answer.

You want to approach an entering meeting that’s going nowhere just like a kid would.  You move right into using everything you’ve got to find out if you can get what you want.    You get creative.  You have a thick skin.

The stalled entering meeting is not the time to give up and meekly agree to do what your client has asked for.  It’s the time to roll up your sleeves and inject some reality into the conversation.  This is the only way to move the conversation from the gauzy fantasy your client has of what’s possible to what is possible today, on this gravity-based planet, in this company between you and them.

Get Real

There is nothing like feeling the pinch of what something is going to cost you to clarify how much you really want it.  We’ve all been there.

Of course you want that (pair of shoes, car, leather item, handbags, etc.).  It’s so obvious how much better your life would be with it.  You are a freight train barreling toward your destination, single-pointed.  Until you take in the price tag, which makes you recoil in horror.  Surely there must be some mistake, you think.  That is way too many zeros.

At this point, some of us walk away.  Some of us get busy shifting thing around so we can have that thing we want.  Clients are no different.  Showing them the price tag places them firmly in reality. 

This is the fastest way to find out the two key elements of a strong contract:

1.  Knowing what you want;

2. Knowing what you’re willing to expend to get it.

If you don’t get your client there in the entering meeting, you’ll be chasing a fantasy for the entire engagement.

Real clarity precedes real commitment. Commitment precedes action and action precedes results.  Real clarity, the kind you can see and touch, is the beginning of all good work.  It’s a simple formula and your client will fight you tooth and nail.  They want to stay in the pleasant fug of denial.  We all do:  The fantasy of what we want is so much more pleasurable than what it will take to get it.

To break the trance of denial, you’ve got to first get your client’s attention.

I like to take them to the movies.  They always get the starring role.  Here’s an example:

A client wants me to come and tell their group to behave differently.  The client is crystal clear about the behaviors they want them to change. (I get this often).  They are crystal clear that this is the best approach.


Liz:  “OK.  Let’s say I come the meeting, I tell them in no uncertain terms to knock it off, citing research to back up my message.  I’m kind, but firm.  Everyone in the room can tell me exactly what they will do differently.  I leave.  2 weeks go by.  What happens?”

“Well….I guess….  Oh, alright:  Probably nothing.”  (Just like a kid, I’m not minding that they are a little irritated with me.)

“Not nothing.  This will affect the group.  How do you think it will affect them?”

It’s usually at this point that the real entering meeting begins.  My client will begin to tell me how frustrated they are, how nothing they’ve tried has worked.  They will start to show me their vulnerability.  Admitting what you really want and have been unable to achieve on your own requires Olympic-level vulnerability.  The surprise is not that our clients resist opening up to us, it’s that our clients let us in at this level at all.


The moment you get frustrated with your client’s firm commitment to something that won’t work, stop trying to convince them it’s crazy.  Instead, show them a movie of their idea in action and ask questions that make it real.  Your client has something important to tell you.  It’s your job to help them get it out.