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Experimental Bridges

Geraldine Gallacher, CEO, Executive Coaching Consultancy discusses changing societal communication and using empathy and open discussion to create a more inclusive, understanding community.

March 2021 

Bill Michael, stepping aside as Chair of KPMG has made me think 

Yes, his comments were insensitive and ill judged.

That said, the current tendency to round on people that say anything controversial or have an off day can’t be good for discourse.  It’s fuelling a cancel culture which leads to de-platforming.

For real change to occur, people need to feel able to air their misgivings in a respectful way and for these to be discussed rather than tow the company line while disagreeing in private.

Do you remember the ingenious Heineken experiment?

It showed the power of truly listening to one another to overcome tribal divides.

Six strangers were paired and got to know each other as they completed a set of tasks.  Each couple held diametrically opposed views.  Feminist with anti-feminist, transphobic man with transgender woman, climate denier with climate activist.  Focused on a common task, couples got on well.

The twist?

 The final task required each to watch a video of the other express their view on feminism, transgender, and climate change.  As the clip ends, each is given the option to stay and talk over their differences or leave.  After a moment of stunned silence, all choose to stay.  One reasons, “The productive thing is to sit down and discuss our differences”.

Organisations embracing new ways of working and hybrid working is here to stay

Inevitably new tribes will emerge with some staff working in the office and others from home.  That means, all of us, team members, line managers and leaders will need to make a conscious effort to overcome our assumptions about others to quash tribal divides and thinking, if we are to work collaboratively.

We are hard wired to want to belong to a tribe, it doesn’t make us bad people but neither does it serve us well.  We have the choice to look beyond tribal affiliations, embrace difference and collaborate around collective goals.

Many professional services firms have operated some form of a hybrid culture for years with a large portion of the workforce working from client sites.  They have learned that skilled leaders need to recognise divisions and the differing needs of the individuals within them.

The ability to bring together disparate factions and resolve competing tensions will become critical to good leadership, and the skill most needed in that endeavour is empathy.

I hope organisations will invest in upskilling leaders and managers to become more empathetic.

Empathy is not something you can ‘teach’

To develop it you need to engage the emotional centre of the brain and hone deep listening and questioning skills. It has to be conveyed in a learning environment where you are primed to go deeper than a webinar on Unconscious Bias will penetrate.  The productive thing is indeed to sit down and discuss our differences with or without a beer.

Geraldine Gallacher, CEO, Executive Coaching Consultancy