The Status Quo, Values, and Uncomfortable Conversations

When faced with the usual “corporate” networking activities, I am always conflicted on whether I should participate or not. I am constantly wondering how else I am supposed to connect with my peers and meet new people in the business world, but I find most of these networking events very formal and too awkward to have a deep conversation and connect.

If I participate, am I really actually connecting with my peers if everyone (including myself) is just following the status quo of niceness and seemingly empty conversations? (“What do you do?” “How long have you been doing that?” “Here’s my business card.” Done).

Would it be possible to have a real conversation about what drives us, our passions, and how we plan to change the world?

If I don’t participate, will I miss out on meeting new clients, peers, or mentors?

I recently held a dozen interviews where I asked entrepreneurs and community leaders what their top values were and to my delight, I found that, no matter the sector in which they worked, we all have a lot of values in common: our community, the environment, collaboration, equity, honesty, mutual respect, and open-mindness, to name a few. I also asked them which causes they were most passionate about. Each of them had a firm grasp on where they felt they could make a difference. Whether it was about the climate crisis, food security, inclusion, local sustainability, feminism, social justice, or cultural vitality, every entrepreneur and community leader I spoke to was passionate about at least one cause that was deeply rooted in their values and always out of love for their community.

So why aren’t we having more networking events that enable us to talk about our values in a real and visceral way? Most people (including myself) are often afraid to speak out on issues and to speak against the status quo because it’s uncomfortable, they’re hard conversations to have, and we’re afraid to alienate or to be alienated. We’re afraid of how people’s perceptions of us might change, or if we’ll burn bridges when we don’t agree over something. Social Media has already changed the dynamic and has introduced a whole new level of “us vs. them”, to the point where it seems that “if you’re not with us you’re against us”.

I’ve been told many times that I am too vocal about my values and that I should be careful how I talk because we’re not supposed to have the hard discussions, because it’s bad for business and it’s not the place. But what if I want to have those hard conversations? What if I truly believe that the hard conversations are the only way to open our minds even more and really see the person we’re talking to? And what if, with my devotion to building a more tightly connected community, I know that the hard conversations will actually bring us closer? When I spoke to these entrepreneurs and community leaders, I felt a real desire for having these hard conversations and sharing their values, without the status quo, without reservation, with just love, respect, and empathy.

One of the things that I keep hearing and feeling since I went into business, is that here in Moncton, we have something special. Our business community is connected in a way that is quite unimaginable for a lot of people from other cities. I like to call it our Unique Value Proposition. We care about each other, we cheer for each other, we show up for each other, and we support each other, all while welcoming in whoever wants to make an impact alongside us.

This week I was especially proud of our Moncton business community. One of our dedicated community leaders decided to be brave and use her voice and stand up to the status quo to amplify the youth speaking out on the climate crisis. She used her voice and spoke up against the sponsorship for an event in which she was nominated for an award. The recently declared climate emergency in our city made the sponsorship feel tone def and the conflict with her deep rooted moral and ethical values made it inappropriate to accept an award paid for by such a sponsor. She therefore decided to withdraw her nomination and not to attend. Within minutes, love and support for this decision started pouring in, and two more community leaders bravely spoke out, withdrew their own nominations, and decided not to attend. This played an incredibly pivotal role in how everything subsequently unfolded.

This could have been a disaster but the two days that followed were where the magic truly happened. Our business community took to social media for a deep dive into their own values and how they factor them into their everyday, and what this all meant for the event, for future events, and for each of their businesses and organizations. The support kept pouring in for the 3 nominees that withdrew, and everyone appeared to take a moment to reflect on how something as seemingly banal as a choice of sponsors can (or not) be aligned with their message, their brand, and their mission, and why all of this matters. Instead of being offended or angry, the organisers spoke out to say that they respect the nominees’ decisions to withdraw and said that, after all, being leaders is why they were nominated to begin with. The feedback I heard most often was how grateful people were that this uncomfortable conversation had happened and how it was really going to change how we do things because we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to what is happening around us. These values should be at the forefront of our conversations, including at networking events, because they are what makes a difference in an economy. We need to talk more about community economic development and what that looks like for our city, and less about economic development that keeps the status quo alive and well.

I am filled with hope at how this will continue to move our business community forward and build stronger connections that speak closer to our values and our core. Maybe this is what our business community needed in order to set aside the status quo and have more meaningful networking events that fill our hearts and get us even closer.

Mylène Després