Eurovision, Brexit and F Scott Fitzgerald. Can we please disagree?

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Simon Bird

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For most normal people, Eurovision is just a crazy night of TV in May.

Others will have cottoned on to the fact that there are now 2 semi finals(!) in the week before to even get into the Saturday show. But for people like me, Eurovision started months ago when Albania selected Jonida Maliqi to represent them. Since then, all 41 songs have now been selected…and tens of thousands of people are already listening to these songs and watching performances on YouTube. This is all great. Until you see how some people comment when they find an opinion that’s different from theirs.

‘’you’re so stupid’’, ‘’your country is a hole’’, ‘’what’s wrong with you?’’ and ‘’you’re an idiot.’’

Perhaps none of this matters. But it got me thinking about the bigger picture – and the idea that in many cases, it’s seems to be increasingly difficult to have a different view, or to disagree. Maybe it was never different – perhaps it was always like this. I’m no fan of nostalgia – but I wonder if our total immersion in rolling news and social media has a part to play.

I’ve been planning a development session based around Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk, ‘Dare to Disagree’. She tells the true story of Alice Stewart, a researcher into childhood cancer, and how important disagreeing with the status quo can be. She makes the point that we have forgotten how to disagree and it’s a skill that should be taught more widely.

And we can’t escape the quality of the public debate around Brexit in the UK now. Or perhaps the general political discourse in the UK. From the time of the EU referendum in 2016, people picked a team. And despite good intentions, the conversation was quickly characterised more by insults, inaccuracies and personal attacks on both sides than any kind of reasoned conversation.

If Brexit is macro, let’s look at micro. I observe the same patterns – though not as extreme – in my work with teams and organisations. Clever people with slightly different views stop listening when it becomes apparent an alternative view is being proposed. It’s as if the alternative view is being perceived as a threat and so systems begin to shut down – or gear up for a stronger counter attack.

I have a couple of suggestion of things any of us can do – for ourselves – and maybe with our families and colleagues:

1) Use ‘AND’ instead of ‘BUT’. So, when someone suggests something which isn’t quite what you want, it’s possible to acknowledge it – and build on it. For example, “Yes – AND I also think we need to consider how this might be received by the cleaning staff”. This tiny change can make it feel different for both parties.

2) Ask 1 more question. Just before you respond, hold back for a moment, and ask just 1 more open question – so you can find out a little bit more about where the other person is coming from. For example, “Can you tell me a bit more about what you’re trying to achieve with this change?” It just might change the tone of the exchange and it demonstrates you’re listening and interested. (By the way you need to listen and be interested in the response)

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to fold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I’m sure he would have enjoyed the Eurovision Song Contest.

By the way, keep an eye on the Netherlands and Italy this year….


(Originally published on LinkedIn – February 2019)

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