September 30, 2013
The Best Way To Start Every Conversation

“What would make this call wildly successful for you?” he said.

I froze.

I’m usually not at a loss for words. I may not (okay, often don’t) find the right words, but I can usually find some words. Not this time. I was too busy thinking, “A wildly successful phone call? Phone calls are phone calls. Interviews are interviews.

“Wildly successful — who thinks that way?”

Mike Williams, the president and CEO of the David Allen Company (the Getting Things Done people), does.

After I quit stammering, Mike explained. “A great way to be significantly more productive,” he said, “is to start anything you’re about to do with one question: What does a wildly successful outcome for this meeting, project, conversation — whatever it might be — look like? If you ask that question up front you co-create success, because everyone involved knows what you’re shooting for and can actively works towards making it happen.”

His explanation sounded cheesy but then I thought about it. His was the perfect question to ask: Why wouldn’t you want a wildly successful outcome? Why wouldn’t you want a wildly successful outcome for every other person involved?

I had planned to interview Mike for an article and normally I would have said something like, “I’m looking for five or six tips readers can use to be more productive.” That’s fine… but it’s also pretty bland. And it sets up the interview to be pretty bland. I don’t sound enthusiastic, I don’t sound into it, and I definitely don’t sound like I’m excited to talk to Mike (which I was, but at first I did a terrible job of showing it).

I should have answered his question by saying, “I’d love to get five or six great tips that small business owners can use to really supercharge their day. Not just to get more done but to feel great about themselves — to feel more efficient, more effective, more in charge. I’d love to get five or six great action steps that readers will immediately be excited to try, and I know you’re the perfect person to supply them.”

Why should I have answered that way? Because that’s what I really wanted.

Suddenly it wouldn’t have been just any old phone call. Suddenly it wouldn’t have been just any old conversation to have and check off the calendar. My excitement would have been flattering. My enthusiasm would have been infectious. Then we would have had a real purpose. Together we would have tried to create something great.

Fortunately for me, Mike rescued the call by asking that one single question.

To be more productive and truly engage other people, always start with that one question: What does a wildly successful outcome for this conversation — or this meeting, this project, this sales call, etc. — look like?

Don’t start anything until you know the answer.