We all join BNI to grow our businesses. However, there’s a pleasant bonus that many people experience when they join a Chapter, and that is that we make new friends. These friendships also help us to refer business to our fellow Chapter members and have business referred our way too. So, we get the benefit of growing our businesses while also meeting some like-minded people who we form great friendships with.
It’s all win-win. When professional behaviour is maintained that is.
Different people find different displays of friendship appropriate in a professional meeting environment. Some members are so pleased to see their friends that they’re inclined to greet them with a smile and an embrace. Other members, however, may feel that this isn’t appropriate in such a setting. So how do you know what’s okay and what’s not?
This is a really hard question to answer if you’re aiming to accommodate each and everyone’s individual boundaries. So much so, that the answer is to do the opposite. It’s best to err on the side of caution and set a benchmark for your Chapter that no-one will find inappropriate. Some members may feel that this reduces the warmth between members. However, that’s a better result than making anyone feel uncomfortable.
I recall a Chapter last year where some very strong friendships had formed. For some of these friends, a hug and a kiss upon arrival felt entirely natural. This, however, created an underlying issue that prevented the Chapter from achieving the growth they sought. The very friendly members hadn’t noticed that the hugging and kissing that had become the norm (and almost expected) upon arrival, made some members and their visitors feel uncomfortable.
For assorted and understandable reasons, some of the older males felt awkward hugging and kissing some of the younger females. It didn’t feel like professional behaviour to them. To compound this, some of the younger females didn’t understand why some members would hug other members, but not them. Visitor feedback also indicated that these displays of affection were not conducive to making them feel welcome either, in fact many fed back that it felt “cliquey”.
After identifying some of these challenges, the Leadership Team chose to discuss with and educate the Chapter members on what would be considered professional behaviour and what wouldn’t. This education led to the agreement of what the Chapter would consider appropriate behaviour at the meetings. Any over-friendly behaviour was encouraged to be taken offline, and the meetings then remained quite professional.
The uncomfortableness that some members experienced disappeared. Members no longer felt like they had to choose who they expressed certain behaviours with and who they didn’t, and visitors felt more welcome and included. The Chapter’s culture is stronger for it, with many new members joining after a long period of minimal growth.
We are a professional business organisation, and this is a big part of the reason we experience the success we do. There’s a time and a place for hugs and a time and a place for professionalism. If in doubt, caution is advised, and if at any time you feel uncomfortable with behaviour at the meeting, speak offline with your Vice-President or Membership Committee.