The Chemistry of Strategy tm Newsletter August 01, 2011

When a face-to-face meeting is required

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Jim had me over a barrel. I had committed to our largest customer, Exxon, that we would provide software to enable running some of their applications in-house. Since it was impossible to finish all pieces within the time period, I reached a handshake agreement with Jim to sublicense his clone of our software as an interim solution. We provided Jim with the proprietary information required to bring his software up to our standards. During the months Jim was enhancing his product, I worked unsuccessfully over the phone to negotiate a final agreement. Days away from our Exxon commitment, Jim left me a message that a final agreement wasn't going to happen. I was screwed.

In Tell to Win, the author discusses Michael Wesch, a Kansas State University cultural anthropologist, who points out that "we’re wired to constantly read one another’s “microexpressions”—involuntary facial expressions that can occur as fast as one twenty-fifth of a second. These microscopic expressions signal the seven universal emotions—disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. Because they’re encoded in our facial muscles, these signals are very difficult, if not impossible, to fake, and we rely on them heavily in high-stakes situations such as business negotiations.Micro-expressions are also critical to creating empathy. "The micro-expressions Wesch described—the pauses, eye contact, body language, and gestures we make while in the room—invariably lose some or all of their impact when told from a distance using current media."

I was up against the wall, largely because I had thought we could conclude a high-stakes agreement via phone, fax, and email. I was wrong. I arranged a meeting between my team and Jim's team in Atlanta. I told our team to be prepared to stay in Atlanta until we had a signed deal. We had the lawyers on call, negotiated for 48 hours, and worked our way through endless versions of an agreement. We were committed to stay until we had a written, understood, reviewed, and approved contract that all parties were committed to implement. It took a face-to-face, well-facilitated meeting to reach agreement. Lesson learned.

When you are dealing with any high-stakes area, you need to be there in person. As Peter Guber outlines in Tell to Win, the experience is even more important than the plan itself. Our strategic planning services are anchored by this insight. When the implementers experience the planning process, they own it.

Put an end to meeting madness

At the end of every meeting we facilitate, we ask the broad question, “How did we do?” One of the most common comments is, “These Myrna meetings are so effective, how can we make our normal meetings work as well?”

Maria Birkhead, one of our senior facilitators, took up the challenge to document the best of the meeting techniques she and our facilitators have developed in the crucible of actual meetings. Learn the techniques from our book An End to Meeting Madness or the upcoming webinar "Run Leadership Meetings that Burst with Fresh Ideas."

John W. Myrna

is co-founder of
Myrna Associates Inc

My next Webinars

Run Leadership Meetings That Burst With Fresh Ideas
August 10, 2011
1:00-2:00 PM ET

Shift from Survival to a Growth Strategy
September 9, 2011
1:00-2:00 PM ET

John Recommends

The Social Animal
by David Brooks


"When you explore a new landscape or visit a new country, your attention is open to everything, like a baby’s. ... This receptiveness can happen only when you are physically there. Not when you are reading about a place, but only when you are on the scene, immersed in it. If you don’t actually visit a place, you don’t really know it."

Why we need face-to-face meetings.

Speaking Gigs

John loves to share his insights. Email him if you'd like to have him speak at your next meeting.

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