Business Buddha: the Place for Grace in Selling

To my right, in the middle seat, a young woman on her way back home to the Poconos after visiting mom in Prescott quietly reads. I’d unintentionally cut in front of her while joining the line to board in the terminal. “Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry.” “No worries, we’re all headed the same place.” We’d laughed when a few minutes later she showed up to take her place next to me in row 14. “Oh, you again!” Hahaha.

As she’d settled in next to me, I noticed the unnecessarily heavy amount of makeup she wore for a young woman—this, according to me, a fifty-year-old man. I started coughing, probably due all the dry Arizona air I’d been breathing the past few days, and she kindly offered me a cough drop. When she turned her face toward me I noticed her eyebrows had been filled in unevenly, and a clump of mascara hung perilously from her bottom right eyelash. The specter of judgment crept into my head, “Well, dear, if you’re gonna use so much make up, then at least apply it carefully!” But instead I thanked her with a smile and a minute later felt a glimmer of shame as I read the title of the book I’d brought along, “Dinner with Buddha”.

Yikes. I’m sure the Buddha would admonish me for judging this kind stranger who let me cut her in line and then offered me a cough drop. I silently congratulated myself for having put a halt to my judgment, relieved to have made the choice to be more aware of this stranger’s kindness than her quirky fashion sense. And then in my next thought, I worried about whether I was being a big phony. So was I truly being gracious or not?

GRACE IN BUSINESS

We all face that choice every day. Thousands of times. The choice to act with grace, sincerely, or to take the easier path towards judgment, impatience, or tactlessness. Fortunately, over the past few days, my attendance at a business conference had afforded me a lot of practice at being gracious. I couldn’t spend three days attending panel discussions and meeting a steady stream of potential new clients without being my most graciousness self. I couldn’t spend all that time with my business partner Jillian, who was fighting serious jet lag and missed the comforts of home and her two young boys, without treating her with consistent patience and understanding. Otherwise, I’d have left feeling totally exhausted and probably without having created meaningful new contacts. Indeed, I got a great lesson in how conducting business successfully really takes grace! Real, sincere graciousness.

Thinking back over the conference, if I’m being honest, I can recall several moments when I nearly let my more Gracious Self take a rest. The disheveled guy with a huge belly and bad breath. The woman in the oh-so-conservative navy blue dress suit who never seemed to smile or make eye contact. The business partners who seemed to spend more time flirting rather than listening. An inner voice would start whispering unkind, judgmental notions into my ear, urging my cynical side to take charge.

Thankfully, I resisted. I made darn sure my Big Boy shoes stayed on tight, and I continued treading down the Gracious Path, with an open mind and an empathetic spirit. And do you know what? It was great for business!

I have zero formal training in either marketing or sales. I’ve been learning at break-neck speed since becoming an entrepreneur a mere three years ago. And I don’t know if my emerging formula for business development would be accepted in the leading MBA schools. But here it is:

(PREPARATION + VALUE PROP) x GRACIOUSNESS = FRIENDSHIP

That’s right, I said “friendship.”

I went into the conference dreading the idea of “selling.” But the more we met with folks, and the more we intentionally put graciousness into practice, the more we experienced how holding a space open, free of judgment and infused with curiosity and patience, allowed authentic human connection to begin to take hold. We weren’t selling services as business partners. Jillian and I were forging new friendships as a pair of old friends. That’s what I learned at the conference with the aid of a gracious outlook: that business and selling can be all about connection. Even friendship.

Don’t look at people by their category—gender, race, social standing, age—but relate to them inside, soul-to-soul, from and to that place where we’re so much more alike than different…. We were gay and straight, we were male and female or part of each, we were conservative or liberal, black or white or red or yellow or brown or mixed or Italian or Irish or Nigerian American. We…opened our mouth and said one word about abortion or taxes or God or radical Islam or military service or Bush or Obama or Fox or NPR or we said we were from Mississippi or North Dakota or the West Village or Boulder and within the time it took to say “box” we were in one…. –Roland Merullo, Dinner with Buddha

Indeed. So Jillian and I diligently stayed out of the box by practicing grace at the business conference. Being gracious is not in the least bit naïve. It’s wise. It’s real. It’s human. And it’s hugely effective.

–Written by Daniel Doucette