I learned something important last week through a friend and colleague who identifies herself as a business person. It was a story she told that started with the line, “The Chamber of Commerce made me want to puke — so I joined it.” She went on to describe how fierce commitment to “free enterprise” was the trigger for her. She was translating that, and seeing it, as license to “do whatever you want” regardless of detrimental impact on the bigger picture.
I loved how she described herself “powering up” for the meetings with her desire to get “free enterprise” out of the mission statement. She presumed a battle coming and with people who simply didn’t understand or couldn’t understand the bigger picture.
My friend’s story, however, took a turn. Rather than combat and confrontation, she turned to inquiry and curiosity. Rather than argument, she invited conversation — “What is free enterprise to you?” She invited each person in the chamber to talk.
I don’t know all of what was shared in that conversation, but knowing my friend, I can guess that there was some good, important, and thoughtful listening. I can imagine a few remarks about trying to put kids through school. Perhaps a few about third and fourth generation businesses that began with immigrant grandparents. I can imagine people sharing their desire to grow their city.
My friend shared that by the end of the meeting she had gained respect for every person in the room. Less confrontation. More inquiry and curiosity. It makes all of the difference.