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September 23, 2016

4 Pointers for Your Next Business Lunch

Chip Carter – Vice President

I recently read in the paper that an old friend of mine had taken a new job at a different company. It was a very senior position, and it appeared to be a great move for him. We had lost touch over the past few years and so I used his news as a reason to reach out and congratulate him. He appreciated my call, and we decided that we should meet for lunch and catch up more.

I thought there could be a business aspect to the meeting – in his new position, he would be able to help steer potential business and, more likely, he’s a natural networker and the type of person you want recommending you to others. But mostly, I just wanted to reconnect with an old buddy.

Point # 1: Work to maintain your relationships – life happens and suddenly three years have gone by. Find time to keep in touch. When you realize too much time has passed, pick up the phone.

As we began lunch, I asked him a question that I think is one of the most fundamental and important of any meeting – business or otherwise. I asked him about his family. Now, some may question why would I ask about his wife and kids? Some might even find this question inappropriate, but I believe regardless of your age or position asking someone about their spouse, children, parents or siblings is simply common courtesy. Moreover, it is a critical part of building and maintaining rapport and creating what you really want: a relationship. And it's not just about family – if they run marathons ask about their next race, if they just got back from a vacation, ask about their trip. Find topics that show you are interested in them personally.

Point # 2: Don’t jump to “the sale” – always take the time to discuss human interests and genuinely take an interest in the other person’s life.

An interesting thing happened, however, when I asked about his family. He talked – a lot. In fact, he spoke about his two daughters and wife for 50 minutes and then started in on his new job. It was clearly something he wanted to talk about, but it quickly evolved into a one-way conversation. Yes, I wanted to hear about his kids and family, but as time went by I’d also like to share some thoughts about my own family and business.

Point # 3: Unless you are getting college credit, no one wants to listen to a lecture. Real communication requires more than one person talking. I have a rule of thumb: if I’ve talked for more than five minutes without another person talking, I need to take a breath and let someone else talk. It’s one thing to lead a conversation, but it’s quite another to entirely dominate it.

A little after one o’clock we had both finished our lunches and we were getting ready to walk to our cars. As if he was quickly reviewing a mental checklist, my friend (finally) asked about my family and business. It felt like an afterthought and came across as half-hearted and less sincere than I think he actually meant it.

Point # 4: Always be aware of the time at meetings, particularly business breakfasts, and lunches when everyone is on a scheduled amount of time. For me, I feel like the typical lunch has some opening discussion, followed by one to three other topics and finishes with a bit of a wrap-up/next steps. If you are ¾ through your allotted time and aren’t past the opening section, you probably need to mix things up.


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