Here is a complete toolkit for implementing one of my most powerful and versatile techniques, The Conversation Contract™. Leading psychologist Thomas Harris, author of the bestselling I’m OK–You’re OK, developed the basic process to help people conduct the most important and stressful conversations in their lives. I have refined it over the past fifteen years in my work with salespeople, managers, government officials, and CEOs to its present form. You can use it for better meetings, telephone calls, and family interactions.
Start with this video and reinforce your skills with the printouts linked below. You may also want to use my 12 Step Program for productive confrontation by clicking here, Conversations that Make a Difference.
Be sure to click the square in the lower right to go to full screen.
Download these printable documents for free!
Here, mostly for the search engines, is the complete script of the video.
I am about to share with you a simple yet powerful technique that has been very popular with my executive coaching clients. They tell me it reduces stress and improves their relationships. Watch this video and you will be able to save time and get more done, plus–in sales particularly–you’ll make more money.
My technique is called the Conversation Contract. I use it for better telephone calls, face to face meetings, sales calls, and when I conduct classes. In fact, I’m using it right now.
I will describe the three simple steps, demonstrate the Conversation Contract in action, and direct you to a totally free website where you can get more examples and a printable graphic reminder of the steps. All this in less than fifteen minutes. Ready?
Have you ever been frustrated by a conversation or walked out of a meeting thinking: “We just weren’t on the same page” or “I wish I had known we were going to talk about that.” … It happens all the time, right? Using the Conversation Contract will prevent those situations. This technique can even stop it in the moment, right when it is threatening to ruin your meeting.
My Conversation Contract is based on a procedure created by therapists to help people get good results in what might otherwise be stressful conversations with spouses, teenagers, or a difficult boss.
Simple three part format
In my work with chief executives, salespeople, and top managers over more than fifteen years, I’ve refined the Conversation Contract into this easy to remember three-part format. (Hand movement) Agree on mutual outcomes, clarify the process, and settle on the times.
Start work on your Conversation Contract by getting clarity and agreement on the outcomes desired by everyone in the meeting.
Clearly, the details of the outcome are going to be created in the conversation not while contracting for the meeting. What we can do is characterize the result we are interested in. If the outcome is a project plan, for example, we might contract to set b-r-o-a-d milestones or insist on refining every task on the Gantt chart. You’d want to know which outcome is expected well before walking into that meeting, wouldn’t you?
For a conversation that is part of a sales process, we might agree that at the end of the meeting we will have enough information to make a go/no go decision, or just be ready to move on to the next level of authority. As a salesperson–or even a prospect–those outcomes make for very different meetings, right? Reaching agreement on the outcome gets everyone on the same page and productive.
Get clear about the outcome you’re working together towards, whether it is a decision, a document, even a dance. The outcome may even be, often is, another Conversation Contract for a future meeting.
If Outcome is Why, the process step is the Who, What, Where, and How.
To achieve your agreed outcome, Who needs to be there? A person with particular expertise or authority? Maybe someone needs to be invited for political or social reasons. Think it through in advance, together.
What do you need: a projector, a whiteboard? The budgets, a floor plan, or an engineering drawing? Samples, a prototype, or-maybe-lunch?
Where should the meeting be? Do you need a quiet place free of interruptions or just a hallway moment? Are you flying to a conference center or talking by telephone?
How are you going to conduct the meeting? Is it informal or will you have an agenda and a facilitator? Are we announcing a policy, brainstorming, looking for consensus, or are we taking a vote?
The choices are easy to make because you have already agreed on the Outcome. Everyone knows Why you are meeting.
We’ve handled the “Why” of your meeting in step one, the Outcome. The Process covers Who, What, Where, and How. That only leaves one thing…When
The third and final step in our conversation contract is the time. This sequence may seem odd, since most people start with the time when they set a meeting, “Are you open for a meeting at 1o on Friday?”
But, why would you agree to a meeting without knowing its purpose, the intended outcome? Why would you want to make time for a meeting that does not have a clear process, one that gives you confidence that the time will be well spent? Now that you’ve learned about Conversation Contracts, you’re much less likely to walk into such time traps!
Before you commit your precious time, an irretrievable slice of your life, gently backup and talk about the intended Outcome and Process until you all agree on the Why, the Who, What, Where, and How-and THEN, only then, the When!
Process is power.
Invest time early to get process agreement. You’ll save piles of time later. This is called the “Slow/Fast Method:” Go slowly setting up your process and you can safely go fast doing the process, like a well-tuned race car.
Respecting a solid process doesn’t take time; it makes time.
Years ago, I brought my most junior associate along to a meeting with a client and his staff. About twenty minutes into the meeting, I could feel the energy level of the room was dropping and we did not seem to be getting anywhere. Before I could think of a solution, my young consultant said, “Excuse me for jumping in, but it occurs to me that we did not review our Conversation Contract at the beginning of the meeting. Should we do that now?” She was being polite; I had forgotten to set a Conversation Contract when I scheduled the meeting!
It was as though someone had turned the lights on! I quickly got agreement on an Outcome, confirmed that the right people were in the meeting with the appropriate documents, and that we had adequate time to do our work. Everyone got focused and we flew through the agenda.
Remember, Conversation Contracts are not just “set and forget.” Review your Conversation Contract at the start of the meeting and – for longer meetings–after each break. Even if no Conversation Contract was set before the meeting, you can start the meeting by negotiating it. The seconds invested in confirming the process can save hours of unproductive meeting time.
Even for people who use all three steps of my Conversation Contract triangle, there is one common mistake–and it can cost!
-> Break <-
Have you ever had the experience of preparing for an important meeting, one that could have a major impact on your job or your life, totally prepared for a thorough hour of discussion, only to arrive and discover that a key player needs to leave after just 15 minutes! That’s a big disconnect. What a waste.
Prevent that. (hand motions) Take a few minutes in advance to get clear about the outcomes, layout the process, then everyone can see how long it is going to take. Don’t set just a start time, set an end time. Get an agreement from everyone on the amount of time you have.
Sequence matters! Don’t do times first.
As an executive coach to CEOs, my initial meeting with a prospective client takes 90 minutes up to 2 hours. There’s just no point in a shorter sales call. Suppose your career success depended on your ability to get busy chief executives to carve out two uninterrupted hours for a meeting before he or she even decided you could help them? Could you do? I do… because I use a strong Conversation Contract:
At the end of this meeting we will both have a clear idea about whether my executive coaching is appropriate for you at this stage in your business and your life. We will have a specific, confidential conversation about you, your business, and your goals. We will talk in detail about your results and your plans. Please, arrange for us to speak privately and without interruption for two hours.
A Conversation Contract for an all-day meeting involving dozens of people and lots of material might take hours to negotiate. For an ad hoc telephone call, the conversation contract might take only 15 seconds.
For example, I train salespeople to use something like this, “I’m calling today to see if it makes sense for us to have a longer face to face meeting. If I could ask you three or four questions, we’ll both know if we should get together. Do you have five minutes to do that now or would you prefer to schedule another call?”
Did you see all three parts: Outcome, Process, and Times? It is all there in three sentences in 15 seconds.
Why bother? One of the top complaints business people have about taking telephone calls from sales people at the office is that they are afraid you won’t let them go, they don’t know how long it will take. If you do in-home sales, uncertainty about how much time you’ll take is a huge barrier.
Instead of letting mystery create stress and evasions, try setting up your business meetings with a telephone call like this: I just called to set the agenda for our meeting tomorrow. If the two of us could talk about what we want to accomplish tomorrow, who we need to have in the room, and what information they should prepare we should have a great meeting. Do you have 5 minutes to do that now?
Did you notice? I just made a conversation contract to make a conversation contract! Once you feel the power of this technique, you’ll be doing all day!
Now this is important, crucial for your reputation and effectiveness. Don’t just set contracts–respect contracts! Re-negotiate your contract if you approach the end of the agreed time–no matter what is happening! Even if they are reaching for their credit card, STOP and say, “I notice that we are close to our time but we haven’t covered everything. I’m comfortable going for another five minutes if you are, or we could schedule another call to get this done. Which works best for you?”
Do you see all the strong messages in that question? You acknowledge the value of their time-and of your time. This is crucial for salespeople, whose time is often wasted by prospects. You confirm that your promise matters-if you say you are going hit a deadline you don’t just forget about it. The Conversation Contract isn’t a trick or a manipulation; it is totally straight and honest. So everybody can relax.
Let’s review. When you get clear with people on the purpose of the meeting and the format of the discussion, the time is easy to agree to. If you get resistance on the time, move back to step two and review the process. If they won’t agree on the process, make sure you have agreement on the Outcome. Or start over by negotiating a different Outcome, maybe an interim step. Don’t pretend to move forward until you find the “Why” everyone can support.
If you can’t create a complete Conversation Contract, be happy that you’ve avoided scheduling a frustrating meeting. If you can’t agree on the purpose of a meeting, why would you want to commit the time?
There’s lots of free support material for the Conversation Contract and other techniques at my web site, www.TonyMayo.com, including a graphic
[show printed page]
you can download and print. I suggest posting it over your telephone so you can follow the format on your calls.
You’re going to save time, reduce stress and uncertainty, deepen and clarify your relationships, maybe even make some more money. (chnick)
By the way, you might want to replay the first thirty seconds of this video to see how it follows the three parts of the Conversation Contract.