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The Power of Pitching a Proposal


Arguing is easy. We do it all the time, think mobile phones on the table at family dinner times (take note daughter), through to Brexit and everything in between.


As we get older (through practice), we get better and better at it. You could almost consider it to be an art form (think about those in the King’s Counsel and the rings they run around people with their arguments)


The upside of arguing? Well, it’s low risk (some people find it fun) – no decisions get made, no risk is encountered, no reputations are put on the line. It’s all ‘very safe’.


The downside of arguing? Well, it doesn’t make anything any better (maybe a stroke of the ego). More often than not it becomes a game of attack and defence – people ask ‘Why?” (not necessarily the best choice of question) and the other side gives 101 reasons why something should or shouldn’t happen (there we go again).


We just end up building the walls of our defence higher and higher, becoming even more inflexible. We make definitive statements not necessarily because we believe them, but more so to stop the other side from probing the sanctity of our cherished positions. The danger of course becomes one of pride – this is the dark side of commitment and consistency. We’ve gone so far, for so long taking a position or a line on a particular subject. What this means is that it gets that much more difficult to move away from this position later (when common sense returns) increasing our inflexibility. Even when new information which in more relaxed circumstances might change our view, can be dismissed.


So, what’s the antidote?


Well, there are a number of good behaviours we can indulge in. We can slow the process down by clarifying – giving people time to think. We can take a break when things get heated or there are news things to consider. We can use our emotional intelligence to maintain our own stability and objectivity whilst leveraging empathy to dig deeper into the hopes, fears and dreams of the other side.


If things have gone too far, perhaps we need to hand the baton onto a new set of runners in the relay so that issues can be considered with a fresh perspective with less bias or prejudice (take note Michel Barnier and Boris Johnson).


Probably the most powerful thing we can do though, is to pitch a proposal. The spotlight then shifts from the defending and attacking of our relative positions to the merits of the proposal (or potential solution) on the table. This is what appears to have happened with the new Brexit deal this week.


Now I’m not naive enough to believe that it will be unanimously and gleefully accepted by all the parties that have skin in the game here.


What I will say is that to stand the best chance of a proposal being accepted in its current (or near current) form, it needs to be attractive for the many, with the least amount of pain for the few.


As I write this, there are parties involved in the Brexit negotiations who are taking the time to consider their positions in the light of this proposal – a good move, as discussed above. It is hard though to resist the power of a credible, realistic proposal.


Sam Macbeth, 28th February 2023



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