362: The importance of different conversations
Conversations are fundamental to public affairs. Not talking to people leads to narrow thinking and a failure to develop networks. We must all consider our conversations if we are to deliver good advice.
The starting point for any assessment of the range of conversations available to us is to think about why we are talking to people.
In a work setting, there are two key aspects – to ensure you develop a wider perspective and to help develop relationships.
Good public affairs advice must know and understand a range of political opinions as well as how audiences could react to a campaign or policy idea. This requires the good information and understanding that comes from conversations. It could otherwise be easy, for instance, to fall into the trap of thinking that a whole political party thinks in a certain way. That is rarely the case. Nuance and the ability to identify streams of thought can be easily overlooked in those circumstances.
So, conversations need to be about broadening horizons, understanding perspectives, and breaking out of silos. It is easy to fall into the trap of only talking to the same or similar people all the time. That may be where we instinctively feel most comfortable but that rarely leads to the best advice.
The Westminster political system is not as prescriptive as many others. A consequence of that is the ability of government to decide on its own course of action rather than having to follow a defined procedure. Again, a broad range of opinions are useful in helping to work out the course of action that government may take.
But public affairs is the quest to become a trusted adviser. That is centred on the ability to engage and take the time involved to develop relationships. These relationships evolve over time.
It requires not just the ability to prove trust on both parts but also, where possible, to talk about things other than politics or policy. It should be a mix of the personal as well as the professional.
Again, this is best achieved through conversations.
Once we understand why we need the conversations, we can then consider who we should be talking to.
That consideration needs to ensure that we are not becoming too narrow in our perspectives but also that we are looking to develop the type of deeper relationships we need with key stakeholders.
Poor advice can come from inaccurate thinking due to a failure to know and understand a range of perspectives. It is the public affairs equivalent of staying in the Westminster bubble and we all see the political consequences of that.
As the now very old BT adverts used to say, ‘It’s good to talk’.