Could Better Listening Build Brexit Bridges?

“Two tribes – faceless elitists re-engineering lives from on high; frustrated locals who feel ignored and forgotten.” That’s the state of play in too many situations these days.

It’s the state of play in my hyper-local context, for example. Brentford has been a textbook example of “planning blight” for the 12 years I’ve lived here. The redevelopment, by a faceless developer, is now getting underway. But while we can see demolition work happening along the high street, local people feel left in the dark about what’s happening, when.

It’s the state of play that led to the Brexit vote – at least according to a Channel 4 drama this week. And I gather it may have something to do with unexpected election results in other countries, too.

What’s to be done? I’m wondering if whether some practical bridge-building could help. For example, what if we could get people really listening, across the various divides?

My friend Nick Heap suggested this as a way of dealing with the current Brexit confusion. In a letter to his Member of Parliament said, “You (the combined wisdom and experience of the MPs) won’t get out of this by using the same level of thinking and quality of working together that got you into it. There will need to be much more listening and cooperation. Everyone thinks better when talking to someone who is present and listening.”

He suggested that MPs follow a four-stage facilitation format, similar to Liberating Structures.

  1. Appreciative interviews
  2. Deep listening – in pairs, with timed turn-taking
  3. Conversation circles to generate new ideas
  4. Choose the best idea(s) and take them forward.

I’d love that to happen. I think the results could be awesome.

I’d tend to design in some Clean Language elements – parrot-phrasing, Clean Language questions, and Clean Feedback, for example – because I know these have been used effectively in various conflict-resolution scenarios. But Nick’s structure seems pretty sound overall.

I’m now wondering how it could be used in Brentford. Who would I need to contact, and influence, to start to connect the “two tribes”?

The key, in all the various contexts, is to get people listening. Because once people feel listened to, they feel understood. Once they feel understood, they’re much more ready to listen.

“It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there.” Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference

1 thought on “Could Better Listening Build Brexit Bridges?”

  1. On Twitter…
    @BrianBranagan writes:
    Perhaps UK could use the #listening practices of @ListenFirstProj and @BetterAngelsUSA who are trying to bridge the hyper-partisan divide in the USA.

    @dgheath21 (David Heath) writes:
    Ah yes, I’m sure that better listening would help this and many other complex problems. I discovered recently that conversation café originated in Seattle post 9/11 trying to make sense of what happened. I love the spirt of it

    I like what Involve are doing with citizen assemblies

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *