IT’S POSSIBLE again to have face-to-face meetings even with no specific agenda to take up. The virtual meetings we got so used to in the lockdown period are still around, but becoming less frequent. The personal appointments are back, including lunch.
To reassure the invitee that no issues or favors are to be taken up, the inviter characterizes the sought meeting as just a “courtesy call.” If lunch is too hard to arrange, a drop-by at the office will do, over coffee. (How long can that take?) The executive assistant can book a 15-minute time slot for this.
The courtesy call has no real agenda except a “meet and greet.” Nothing important is expected to be discussed, debated, or even mentioned. There is no presentation to be made and at the end of the meeting, there are no recall notes to be agreed on. (Did I say that?) There is no expectation of a follow-up for new business or a difficult negotiation in the horizon.
The courtesy meeting is an end in itself. No practical alternative is offered to the physical visit — can we just e-mail “hi” to each other?
Certain occasions trigger off a courtesy call.
Maybe a new chief executive is installed. Major service providers doing business with the company’s old chief, who was ousted or retired, are nervous about getting retained or even paid for past transactions. They want to see the newly designated chief and evaluate how to move forward with him and the new team in the inevitable reorganization. Even the secretary may be new. (Just note the new birthday.)
Courtesy calls follow a certain routine.
Calling cards are no longer exchanged as the visitor is expected to be already known (at least by name) by the host. Also, the EA is expected to have given her boss a briefing on the visitor — this guy played golf regularly with your predecessor. (Is that right?)
Common backgrounds are unearthed, like cousins who are friends, former colleagues, or school ties that bind — did you attend the last homecoming? There has to be some caution exercised in name dropping, as some personalities that are claimed may provoke a hostile reaction — that mud slinger is a friend of yours?
Safe topics are best. These include the pandemic effects on restaurants and gyms, the traffic situation at C-5, and foreign places of interest — have you ever been to Ukraine, before the invasion?
The host being visited is not necessarily a total stranger. Maybe, the courtesy caller has even met him previously at some corporate function. Or worked briefly with him. Old times are always good to dwell on, unless these were contentious.
After 15 minutes or so (never mind if one hasn’t gotten to the tourist attractions yet), the visitor pleads the need to flee as his host may have other matters to attend to. This avoids the necessity of the latter glancing at his watch, or even texting while the conversation about long-lost cousins is still going on.
The photo op can be skipped unless the meeting is taking place in a restaurant where waiters seem to be trained for mobile phone camera angles — look this way please.
Politicians and bureaucrats handle courtesy calls differently. Meeting people (especially suppliers) are an integral part of their appointment schedules. These meetings are the very stuff of politics — a lot of small talk going nowhere, some beating around the bush, and the studious avoidance of contentious subjects like audit findings. Best to keep the visit stress-free. (Talk to my Executive Assistant if you need anything.) As for photos?
With politicians in power, the calling card too is unnecessary. The visitor knows who his host is and no contact details are required except if the card is used later for avoiding traffic tickets. Still, that one needs a handwritten note at the back. And, if the visitor’s name slips into the rack of memory, no worries there.
Favor-seekers do not expect to be remembered anyway, except for the task required. They usually do a good job of later reminding their host who they are, what they need, and the amount of “encouragement” they can provide.
Courtesy calls are an opportunity to simply converse without being too guarded or precise. When more formal meetings are required, these can be scheduled for other occasions, maybe dinner with appetizing tapas and loud music in the background to avoid being recorded.
It’s really not clear what value a courtesy call brings to the business practice. It’s just a social ritual that is supposed to establish rapport… or the possibility of having a good one.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda