Have you ever been invited to a meeting and when you arrive it seems that everyone else knows each other, but you?
Picture senior management sitting around a big long table in silence, waiting for a meeting to begin. You get to sit at the far end of the table.
You start up a conversation with the person alongside. You find out what she does and why she is at the meeting, but that’s about all.
There is some finger food on a side table and we are invited to help ourselves. We are killing a bit of time before the exact time for starting the meeting. There are small bottles of water on the table and some mints in little bowls.
There seems to be complete social dislocation, as only individuals go to the side table one at a time and return with some food to their seat at the long table.
The time to start arrives, but the person to chair the meeting and the top boss haven’t arrived. So we begin a process of going around the table introducing ourselves. It comes around to me eventually, and I have nearly finished my introduction when the boss and his entourage walk in with apologies for their busyness. The process of introductions immediately shuts down as they take over.
The meeting is about a large commercial development with strong social and cultural aspects. These are the stakeholders and heads of various planning departments. The meeting provides an opportunity for the stakeholders to hear how the overall project is progressing.
I don’t get to go to meetings at this level very often and I am grateful for the invitation – offered on the basis of my interest in providing appropriate space to create a culture of positive intercultural and interfaith hospitality, particularly visitors to Adelaide.
I began to reflect on my experience of this meeting when my daughter Aly and I had a conversation the following evening about a wonderful evening she had, coinciding in time with the meeting I just described.
Her husband, Tim, had written a jingle for Friends of the ABC a few years back: ‘Save the ABC!’ She and Tim had been invited to an ABC dinner, and Tim invited to play a couple of his songs and lead everyone in singing the jingle.
But what blew Aly and Tim away was the culture of genuine hospitality among the gathering.
‘Someone would come over, introduce themselves and after some exchange, say ‘O you must meet so and so! And then escort her over and introduce her to someone else – and so on!’
I must admit that I would have been happy just to sit next to Max Gillies, as Aly did, once the dinner started! (Max Gillies became famous for his Bob Hawke impersonations).
Good luck with commercial ventures that want human connections, if the strategists do not even know how to welcome a stranger to their meetings!
As Ghandi advised: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’!