Nobody needs another opinion

Just before Christmas a colleague asked me why I hadn’t written anything on here for a while. Whilst I was obviously aware that I hadn’t, I was surprised when I looked back and saw that it had been around three months. As someone who had previously written once a week, my writing during the pandemic had started to slow and then eventually, and intentionally stopped.

When people are dying, people are losing their businesses, families are being kept apart, writing about the importance of strong cultures or leadership felt…well a bit glib. And then all the space for debate in the workplace was filled with vacuous debates around hybrid working which, any objective view would tell you, is the least pressing issue for anyone running an organisation.

Frankly, I came to the conclusion that the last thing I or anyone else needed was another opinion.

A bit of time and space and I can’t help thinking that I was entirely wrong, we have never needed a diversity of opinion more. The problem is our ability to convey opinions sensibly and our reluctance to listen to and consider those that are different or challenge our perspective. Immediately jumping into criticism and critique, rather than embracing curiosity and asking questions. I know I am, and I think others are are, prone to falling into that trap.

Our thinking, decision making our choices and our ideas can only be improved by taking into account the widest range of perspectives. Whether that is in our teams, in our businesses, around board tables or in broader societal debates. Listening to different views or perspectives that are held sincerely and expressed respectfully is an undeniable strength, particularly when they challenge our beliefs or long held perspectives. The moment we think, “well they would say that”, we’ve shelved our curiosity.

But in order to consider the widest range of perspectives, we need people to feel confident they can express freely and openly those opinions. We need to value independence and creativity and avoid the trap of slipping into group think and soundbites. We need to be careful in the language that we use ourselves and to others and when we do come across something we find uncomfortable, we need to be willing to ask more and assert less.

Add to this the inevitable social media pile on when someone tries to outline a different opinion particularly about any of the “golden topics” – flexibility, diversity, executive pay, working practices, trust, employee responsibilities to name but a few – and you end up with the type of anodyne debate that serves no-one well and leaves many silently frustrated. And what is perhaps worse, is we give those that shout the loudest the false impression that everyone thinks the same, encouraging them to raise their voices even further.

So as my little self coaching session concludes; I need to take more time to listen to genuinely held and respectfully made views that challenge me, likewise I need to have the courage to express views responsibly that might challenge others and I need to silence the noise of those that don’t want to enter into a genuine conversation but instead want to simply point score.

Let’s see how we go.

Inclusion means everyone

I’m not sure how many of you saw the social media fallout from the Good Morning Britain debate that led to Iain Dale walking out of the studio. If you need to catch up with it you can here. It was supposed to be a discussion about mental health and wellbeing, but instead the discussion became more about the behaviour of the people involved.

As if we needed another reminder about the increasing sense of polarisation in our society…but we got one. The social media reaction was typical with accusations flying around. Iain is a middle aged, white male, so clearly “gammon”. Grace is a left wing, young female, so clearly “snowflake”. And Nihal – well he isn’t from round here is he?

What weighs on my mind and genuinely worries me is how we start to find a way to bring people together and what role organisations have to play. If we believe in inclusion, then we need to believe that everyone, that’s everyone, has a right to their view, their beliefs, their opinions, their religion. Everything.

That means we have to accept Donald Trump. We have to accept Bernie Sanders.  We have to accept Ilhan Omar. We have to accept Jeremy Corbyn.  We have to accept Diane Abbott.  We have to accept Boris Johnson. We have to accept Gerry Adams. We have to accept Marine Le Pen. And of course, I could go on.

We don’t have to like them, but we have to accept they have a right to their views, their opinions and their difference.

We have to find a way for people to bring their views and difference together in a constructive way, to debate and exchange views. To respect and include the multitude of difference that makes our society rich. We don’t do this at the expense of anyone, this shouldn’t be seen as a zero sum game, but instead as a means to grow and further our knowledge and understanding, to create more for everyone, not less for some.

Of course, I am a middle aged, white male. So I appreciate that immediately I stand here in a position of historical privilege and open to the accusation that I don’t understand what it is to walk in the shoes. But of course, none of us do, not really. We all bring something different, which is why inclusion really bloody matters and why we need to hear from all voices equally loudly.

So here is to understanding, tolerance, fairness and kindness to all. Whilst it might feel a long way away some times, it has to be worth the fight.