Economist and New York Times columnist wrote, “If you’re doing your job right, some substantial group of people [is] going to be mad at you.” If anyone knows this to be true, it’s the chamber of commerce professional. While you’re trying to support the business community, bring about greater prosperity, increase economic development programs, advocate for pro-business initiatives, and all the other things you do, you will inevitably ruffle some feathers so you need to prioritize chamber relationships.
Even with the best relationship builder, it’s not uncommon for tensions to arise between different stakeholders who are all working toward a common goal – the betterment of the community. Sometimes while you’re improving the business community, you’ll come across a city employee or economic development professional who believes the chamber of commerce is overstepping into their area of expertise. While you can’t help how they feel or act, you can do your best to avoid a small disagreement erupting into a disintegration of a relationship.
Navigating this situation with emotional intelligence is crucial to fostering collaboration and ensuring that both the chamber and the community stakeholders can work together harmoniously for the greater good of the area now and in the future.
If you believe there’s a problem, you’ve heard through the community gossip that someone doesn’t like how you’re conducting yourself in a particular area that they have proprietary feelings about, or you’ve been told as much by them, you need to respond quickly. How you handle the situation depends on many factors. All of these below may not work in every one of your situations but they are a good start.
Understanding the Emotional Dynamics
Before delving into potential solutions, it’s essential to understand the underlying dynamics at play. Jealousy or territorial feelings often stem from a fear of losing control, credit, or resources. The city employee might feel that the Chamber’s involvement threatens their perceived value or role within the economic development landscape. However, it’s important to remember that both parties share a common goal: the growth and prosperity of the community they serve.
Uncovering the Political Connections
Many chamber professionals have stories about how they were burned in a political situation where they angered the wrong person with the right connections. Generally, chamber pros are very astute and in tune with the political undercurrents of their community but occasionally the interworkings are unknown and the situation escalates unpredictably. Learn as much as you can about the person, position, and office the challenge is coming from. Understand if they are elected, appointed, or hired. Assess their connections, concerns, hot buttons, and other things that are critical to comprehending the potential stressor in the relationship between themselves and the chamber. Here are a few other suggestions to help improve the relationship:
7 Ways to Improve a Strained Professional Relationship
Establish Open and Empathetic Communication
The foundation of any successful relationship, whether personal or professional, is open and empathetic communication. If you’re going to initiate a conversation with the individual, do so in a non-confrontational and non-threatening manner. Express a genuine interest in their expertise and the work they’ve been doing. Acknowledge their concerns and perspective. Make it clear your intention is not to undermine their efforts but rather to collaborate and complement their work.
Highlight Shared Goals
Emphasize the common objectives you have. Highlight the fact that the Chamber’s initiatives are designed to enhance the economic development efforts of the city. Instead of viewing the Chamber’s involvement as a threat, the city employee can see it as an opportunity to leverage additional resources, expertise, and connections to achieve shared goals more effectively.
Collaborative Planning and Input
Invite the individual to be part of the planning process. Solicit their input, ideas, and feedback for chamber projects and initiatives. This not only makes them feel valued and respected but also demonstrates a commitment to working together. By involving them in decision-making, you’re turning them into a partner rather than a rival. Additionally, when someone contributes to a project, they are more apt to support it (and others) in the future.
If the disgruntled stakeholder refuses to participate because they don’t have the time, ask if they might be willing to help with a quick favor or other (smaller) part of the project. Even something as small as giving the project a name creates buy-in on their behalf. If you’re looking for other ways to gain their support, try the Ben Franklin effect.
Recognition and Credit Sharing
One of the key triggers of jealousy is the fear of not getting credit for one’s contributions. Acknowledge the city employee’s expertise publicly and give credit where it’s due. Highlight how their collaboration has contributed to the success of joint projects. This not only boosts their morale but also establishes a culture of recognition and mutual respect.
If you don’t have anything nice to say specifically about the individual, contact their manager. Then express appreciation to the manager for allowing the individual to work with you. Be appreciative of the time and resources being used in the partnership. Gratitude goes a long way toward making people want to help you.
Skills Enhancement and Professional Development
Offer opportunities for skills enhancement and professional development. This can help the city employee see the Chamber’s involvement is not about diminishing their role but rather about building a stronger, more capable team. Provide training or workshops that can benefit both parties and enhance their collective abilities. If you have a Chamber Leadership program inviting this individual to be a part of the class, board, or session speaker can help them feel more included.
Bridge Building and Networking
Arrange informal gatherings or networking events where chamber staff and city employees can interact on a personal level. Building personal relationships can significantly reduce tensions and foster a sense of camaraderie. When people know each other as individuals, it becomes harder to hold on to negative feelings.
Initiate collaborative projects that capitalize on the strengths of the chamber and the stakeholder. This can demonstrate the power of working together and the goals that can be achieved. Joint success can lead to a shift in perception from rivalry to partnership.
A Final Word About Navigating Turf Wars at the Chamber
As English poet George Herbert said, “Living well is the best revenge.” Sometimes nothing you do to improve the relationship works. At that point, it becomes less about building the relationship and more about your work to positively impact the business community.
When you come across a stakeholder who feels like you are overstepping, it’s likely because what they see you doing is having an impact. If they thought you were ineffectual, they wouldn’t think about you. If they’re bothered, they are likely jealous or concerned about their job. It is very difficult to dissuade someone from these feelings. You cannot simply tell them not to be jealous or that you don’t want their job. They won’t believe you and they may be offended. Plus, you can’t safeguard their job or their position in the community. If they’re no longer relevant, that’s beyond your realm of influence. In these cases, just keep doing the work. Periodically show the community the impact the chamber’s programs or advocacy is having. Keep “living well” and doing well for the business community.
In conclusion, handling a situation where a city employee, an economic development professional, or another stakeholder feels threatened by the chamber’s involvement requires finesse and emotional intelligence. By focusing on open communication, shared goals, recognition, and collaborative efforts, it’s possible to build a better working city and chamber relationship through cooperation. Remember, the ultimate goal is the prosperity of the community. When different stakeholders work together harmoniously, the results can be truly transformative.