A few months ago an executive approached me about working with her sales team and we arranged to meet. She came to my office and we had a wide-ranging conversation about many aspects of her business and the specifics of the problems she wanted to solve. I asked lots of questions and I challenged many of her assumptions and views. After 90 minutes we were both excited about the possibility of working together and I promised to deliver a formal proposal within a few days.
Yet, as she left and the elevator door slid closed, I had to admit that something didn’t “feel” right. There was a little voice in my head saying “Steer clear, there’s a problem here!”
How did I uncover the problem? And how does it connect to phone communication?
I sent the proposal off to her as promised, presenting it as a draft to let her know I was open to making changes and adjustments prior to our signing a contract. Then, a few days later, I followed up by phone.
I’ve always known that phone conversations contain fewer distractions. This allows us to give 100% of our attention to what we hear. I’m not discounting the value of in-person meetings at all. Body language, eye contact, clothing choices … these all provide information. Often, for me, there’s so much going on in a face-to-face meeting, I miss something.
But on the phone, I am only listening – and listening very carefully.
When I called this executive to follow up on my proposal, I encountered a totally different person than the one I met in my office. Her warmth and openness were gone. Her flexibility and desire to discuss options had also disappeared. Her tone of voice revealed all the things my “spidey sense” warned me about. In less than 10 minutes on the phone, I heard that the company likely did not have the funds to pay me and that I would receive minimal support once the job started. I heard that she wanted someone to take the problems off her hands and someone to blame if they weren’t solved.
Needless to say, I politely declined the opportunity. And I was reminded of two important lessons:
- we need to pay attention to our instincts; and
- when in doubt, communicate spontaneously using another medium.
It was my unscheduled phone call that allowed me to hear what I missed in our initial meeting.
Have you had a similar experience? I encourage you to share your story in the comment section below.