Reality Check: Setting the Tone

The other day, we were reminiscing about Barry. If Barry asked you to do something, you would do it, even if it was inconvenient. Barry is just the kind of guy that you want to help out.

As we were trying to pinpoint what it is about Barry that makes him so special, I thought back to my very first meeting with him.

It was a business meeting where I had a goal to gather specific information. Because I appreciate efficiency and don’t want to waste anyone’s time, I planned ahead and had my list of questions ready. I estimated that it would take about 15 minutes to get the information that I needed from Barry.

So when I sat down at Barry’s desk, I flipped open my folder and was all ready to go. I knew he’s a busy man, so I wanted to let him know that I respected his time and appreciated his willingness to make time for me.

But the meeting didn’t proceed quite as I expected.

Instead, in what may be a familiar Nova Scotia fashion for some of you, Barry started by asking where I’m from. “Who’s your father, then? Where’d you go to school?” And so on.

None of this was relevant to the matter at hand.

It was puzzling to me. Why is this very busy, important man wasting his valuable time inquiring about my relatives? My high school? My home? It was all so irrelevant to the purpose of the meeting.

After a few minutes, we uncovered the fact that Barry and I shared some similarities in our training backgrounds. We live in similar areas. It even turned out that his mother knew my mother. We made a connection—not just a business connection, but a positive personal connection.

I expect that Barry treated everyone he met in the same way. And I realize now that through his astute questioning, sooner or later, Barry would be able to find some kind of connection with pretty much anyone.

Over the years, my dealings with Barry were characterized by the trust and honesty that you share when you know that you are linked—not just by work—but by a genuine interest in each other, with genuine shared goals and values.

Was every future interaction influenced by how Barry conducted our initial meeting? Perhaps. It certainly helped. It set the tone by saying, “We don’t just care about what you can do for us. We care about you, about what you need, and about how we can make things happen together.”

So, future discussions could get right to the point. We didn’t need a lot of time any more; our connection was already established.

Ken Blanchard, in Leadership and the One Minute Manager, says, “When I slow down, I go faster.” The direct route may not always be the fastest one.

Cooperation is easier when you are working with people you like—and who like you. It helps when a relationship has been established. It’s easier when you don’t have to worry about watching every word, lest you offend. It’s better when you know that there’s genuine interest. It’s worth taking some time to set that tone, whether it’s a business or a personal relationship.

Dr. Glasser suggests that good relationships are a key part of life satisfaction. Through his actions, not just with me, but with the many people he met, Barry demonstrated that he fully understood that truth.

It’s possible that you know someone like Barry. You may even know Barry! But even if you don’t, we can still follow his example, and perhaps find that we go faster by slowing down and taking a genuine interest in the people we meet.

Do you know anyone like Barry?

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