Drop the props

Check, check and check.

A few days ago, I was on my way to meet with a client who has worked extensively with some of my colleagues, but not yet with me. I was a little nervous about this meeting.

On this particular day I picked up my daughter’s favorite breakfast sandwich before I hit the road (check) met my target departure of 7:00 am (check) first dropping off my dog at doggy daycare and confirming that my daughter had made it on time to her grandparents’ house for a ride to camp (check). Feeling very accomplished, I got on the highway and settled in for the drive.

About 45 minutes down the road and too far to turn back, I realized I left my laptop bag at my house. So there I was, heading down the New Jersey Turnpike on my way to a meeting with a complete stranger, without my computer or even a pad of paper. The me of ten years ago would have completely freaked out. On that day, I decided I had made this mistake for a reason and decided to figure out why and use it to my advantage.

I think most of us are pretty addicted to our technology, yours truly included. The thought of being two hours away from my home office without my laptop at first struck fear in me. “What if I can’t get something to someone on time?”  “What if I haven’t read enough about this client or their issues?”

Pause. Stop. Rewind.

Insight #1: I was definitely juggling a bit too much in this particular 24-hour time period. What I neglected to say in the lead paragraph is that this particular week, my daughter was also in a day camp that took her and classmates on buses to places like Times Square, Six Flags and the Jersey Shore. Each day was an exercise in packing an almost-teenager for a mini-vacation. Additionally I had spent the prior evening de-cluttering for cleaning people. Perhaps this was a small lesson about capacity and maybe I didn’t have to be the perfect mom (the sandwich) or the perfect housekeeper (the decluttering). After all isn’t the reason we hire people to clean our houses because they do it better?

Insight #2: The more important message to me was whether I really needed those props like my laptop and notebook. In total, I would be away from my office for about six hours. That included traveling to the meeting, having a meeting, and traveling home. Unless traffic became a huge issue, I would still have a solid three business hours to get the day’s work wrapped up.

Therefore, the worst that could happen is a client really needed something urgently. What would I do? Of course I would call a team member, we would talk through the situation, we would work up a solution and I would do as much as I could by phone and lean on the other person to type it. It truly wasn’t a big deal. Had it been a deal-breaker presentation day I’m pretty sure I would not have forgotten the laptop. Today I forgot it for a reason.

When I was in my late twenties, I had a few performance reviews in which supervisors and peers expressed (in similar themes) that I would often let my technical proficiency and desire to make progress impede my ability to connect with clients and colleagues. In the moment I recall being pretty indignant: “I am a people person. Everyone likes me. They say I am an easy-going. How can I possibly not connect???” But that’s what we do when we know something is probably true: we get defensive because we don’t want to see it, admit it and correct it.

Eventually I did correct it. But that focus on execution is something I have to keep in check all the time. It’s my thing. I have to consciously ask myself: how can I connect better with this person? How can I be more authentic? Am I truly listening to this person or shoving solutions at them?

Sometimes I think we hide behind our technology, our business cards, and our titles. Those tools, while valuable, are sometimes like armor. They surround us and give us a false sense of security. I’m pretty sure that the absence of technology on the table set me up for a much different, and probably much better, meeting than if I had been “prepared”.

Without my tools, all I could do was go into the meeting open to listening and learning about the people. The conversation could go in any direction. I could be less focused on having all the answers and more focused on building a relationship.

So whatever your armor is, whether the laptop, a phone, a designer bag: think about whether that tool is really enabling you to succeed or is it just a habit.