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Sometimes the best business advice comes from the heart

Alison Fragale And Student

I’ve been a business professor long enough that I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but I still am: Sometimes the best business advice doesn’t come from business at all.

I gave a negotiation webinar yesterday, and I offered a suggestion based on a piece of wisdom I was given years ago by a friend. More than any of the negotiation science I offered, it was this personal advice that seemed to help business owners the most.

What I said was: “When in doubt, love.”

When a colleague’s spouse suddenly passed away several years ago, I wanted to reach out to the colleague to express my sympathy and offer my support, but I wasn’t sure what was appropriate. Would I be seen as intruding in a family event if I attended the service? Would my colleague want a phone call from me, or would they be sick of mustering energy to be polite to acquaintances?

As I verbalized all of this inner conflict to a trusted advisor, she replied: “Alison, when in doubt, love.”

And so I reached out to my colleague and attended the service. It was good advice.

But I have carried that advice with me and used it countless times since, and in my business life even more than my personal life.

  • Should I go out of my way to give a second chance to an underperforming student?
  • Should I make an exception to a policy if it will ease the suffering of another?
  • Should I pay more than I think I need to pay in a negotiation if I think the other person will benefit more than I will be pained?

When I err on the side of love, I have never regretted it. Not only does it feel good to love, but it has yielded great business results for me – loyal allies, a reputation as a principled negotiator, and the ability to “call in a favor” down the line.

As the suffering in the world has increased, and the old playbook for doing business doesn’t seem like it fits right now, doubts about our choices are overwhelming us.

So let me suggest this: When in doubt, love.

If that doesn’t work, then call me and I’ll give you all the negotiation science you need to know.

With love,
Alison

Alison Fragale is associate professor of organizational behavior and Mary Farley Ames Lee Distinguished Scholar at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

5.1.2020