Engagement. It’s a drum I’ve been banging at nearly every networking event over the past two months and in several of these columns. We’re reaching a fork in the road as a society, and we need to pick the correct path so that we can accomplish so many of the things that we all say we want to accomplish. When given the choice of what is easy and what is right, we need to choose what is right.  

Choosing between what is right and what is easy is something we all do dozens of times per day without realizing it, and many of those times we select the easy path. For breakfast, cutting up a fruit salad is time consuming, while popping a pop-tart in the toaster, or grabbing a donut at the drive thru is easier. Getting out of the house an hour early so you can fit in a workout at the gym before work is difficult, while skipping the gym is easier. Replacing the propane on the barbecue grill means you have to go get the tank, replace it, do the dish soap test- you know what- burgers on the stove are easier and almost as tasty, right?  

These are actual examples form my life in the last week, and I chose the easy path. In each instance I had extenuating circumstances that I used to justify my easy choice. I was late for a meeting so drive thru was easier, my gym clothes were dirty, everybody was hungry, so the stove was quicker…yet all of those “reasons” are easily solvable by engaging in a little pre-planning. What is right, is rarely easiest, but often it is worth it.  

Let’s look at a business example that I’ve been spouting to people lately. I remember when ‘zoom’ used to only be a verb, or an adjective for how fast you were going, and since the pandemic it’s a proper noun — and at times, an omnipresent noun. Zoom and zooming have changed our lexicon as online meetings have changed the way we do business. It’s easy to see why — people can connect instantly, you don’t need to drive to a meeting location, you can share documents seamlessly, and for those who have childcare, senior care or other barriers that prevent them from coming into an office, they can participate from their homes. There’s also the lessened chance to spread germs or potential illness, which was the impetus for its meteoric rise in usage.

However, for what you gain in ease of connection through Zoom, you lose in body language. You miss out on reactions when you can only see people’s faces- that’s of course, when you can actually see their faces and it’s not a black screen with their name on it (or a static headshot). Are they listening? Are they bored? Do they have an idea? Is their connection stable? Can they hear me? Are they typing a comment, sending an e-mail to the group, or typing a different project? It can be maddening to meet like this for certain projects that are feedback heavy. 

Plus, I can’t tell you how many deals, appointments and agreements I’ve made in the parking lot before or after a meeting. Sometimes I do more business there then I do in the meeting itself. 

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The cross talk with colleagues before the meeting agenda begins allows me to ask them how their recent vacation was, how their daughter’s recital went, how their grandmother is doing after surgery, and find out if they need help with that project, we discussed last month. It connects us more meaningfully.

Last week, when our chamber was discussing our new dues rates, I saw a director in the room shifting their weight and subtly shake their head. I asked them what their thoughts were, and they told us about what they disliked about a proposed policy and defended it well, convincing the group not to do that. I wouldn’t have caught that over Zoom. 

There’s so much we lose in not seeing each other in-person, and we need to get back to it. A quick google search shows that experts believe that anywhere from 55% to 93% of communication is non-verbal — being present is not easy but it is right. Now you may have some extenuating circumstances that prevent you from meeting in-person, but as I stated above, often with pre-planning you can make it work.  

This goes for networking events too. We had an awesome Chamber After Hours last week at Brunswick Landing Ventures and co-hosted by RE/MAX-Riverside. Connecting with those 70 people was so much deeper than what has happened in the last month of Zoom calls — it’s just the truth. We need to get back to in-person networking and brush the dust off of those skill sets- because it’s fun, but secondly, because it’s super effective.  

This goes for committees too. Thank you to Kelly, Shannon, Preston, Michelle, Nick, Alyssa, Rebecca, Bethany and Jessica for engaging to help with our chamber golf tournament on May 13.  

Finally, and I don’t want to harp on this, but the decision to do what is right over what is easy permeates through our entire lives. We all have relatives, friends or neighbors who spout verifiably untrue things on social media and at family gatherings. We’ve all driven away thinking a proverbial uncle was nutty and wondering how they could believe that untruth. But that untruth spread now to your cousin and their family. Why? Because it was easier for you to ignore it and not challenge it.  

I believe there is a silent majority that would rather not get into a political discussion in order to keep their relationships friendly, albeit superficial. In fact, some politicians bank on your apathy, because apathy is easier than engagement. We’re at a fork in the road between what it right and what is easy — I hope we pick the right path.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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