Why we only tend to remember the bad things people say about us…

Human’s possess an instinctive threat system – our internal alarm which warns us to danger by creating feelings of anxiety, fear or aversion in order to motivate us to action. It triggers our Fight-Flight response and it’s the reason you are able to read this page right now; in pre-history, a countless number of your direct ancestors successfully deployed the system in all manner of dangerous confrontations, perhaps during an unexpected encounter with a Sabre Tooth Tiger while out for a stroll with the family.

Here’s the thing though. It doesn’t necessarily need a moment of danger to trigger it.

Because this instinctive behaviour is hard wired, we are biased towards processing threat based information. It captures our attention more powerfully than positive information.

We are subconsciously vigilant at all times. It permeates our interactions with family, friends, colleagues, team-mates and our bosses. For some of us, the smallest criticism of our actions can get the adrenalin running with its attendant bodily reactions – the increased heart rate, sweating, anxiety and even outright hostility to the other person in the conversation.

If you think back to your last performance review; your memory of it won’t be the superlatives used to describe your good bits – it’s the ‘areas for improvement’ that stick in the mind. This negative bias triggers threat-based emotions such as fear or anger, which then motivate us to protect ourselves – that may result, after thoughtful consideration and a deep breath or two, in an attempt to improve on our weaknesses. Or slamming a fist onto the red button to launch angry missiles at our perceived tormentors.

It’s the reason a certain world leader so readily and damagingly takes to Twitter. For him, it’s the social media version of Defcon 1. Such is the volume of criticism his instinctive threat system may well be in overdrive.

In step six of I Don’t Agree, I speak to a counselling psychologist to learn how we can learn to control our Instinctive Threat System; to improve our lives at work, at home and in the community. Get the critically acclaimed book here…

“If you think you don’t like conflict, you’ll love this, getting good at disagreeing isn’t just useful, it’s essential and Michael shows you how.”Sam Conniff, best selling author ‘Be More Pirate’ and ‘How To Be More Pirate’

What has Donald Trump and your last performance review got in common?

Human’s possess an instinctive threat system – our internal alarm which warns us to danger by creating feelings of anxiety, fear or aversion in order to motivate us to action. It triggers our Fight-Flight response and it’s the reason you are able to read this page right now; in pre-history, a countless number of your direct ancestors successfully deployed the system in all manner of dangerous confrontations, perhaps during an unexpected encounter with a Sabre Tooth Tiger while out for a stroll with the family.

Here’s the thing though. It doesn’t necessarily need a moment of danger to trigger it.

Because this instinctive behaviour is hard wired, we are biased towards processing threat based information. It captures our attention more powerfully than positive information.

We are subconsciously vigilant at all times. It permeates our interactions with family, friends, colleagues, team-mates and our bosses. For some of us, the smallest criticism of our actions can get the adrenalin running with all its attendant bodily reactions – the increased heart rate, sweating, anxiety and even outright hostility to the other person in the conversation.

If you think back to your last performance review; your memory of it won’t be the superlatives used to describe your good bits – it’s the ‘areas for improvement’ that stick in the mind. This negative bias triggers threat-based emotions such as fear or anger, which then motivate us to protect ourselves – that may result, after thoughtful consideration and a deep breath or two, in an attempt to improve on our weaknesses. Or slamming a fist onto the red button to launch angry missiles at our perceived tormentors.

A previous presidential performance review did not go so well.

It’s the reason Donald Trump so readily and damagingly takes to Twitter. For him, it’s the social media version of Defcon 1. Such is the volume of criticism of the president’s actions and decisions, his instinctive threat system may well be in overdrive. Trump’s performance review is upcoming – at the ballot box in November 2020.

In step six of I Don’t Agree, I speak to a counselling psychologist to learn how we can learn to control our Instinctive Threat System; to improve our lives at work, at home and in the community. Get the critically acclaimed book here…

Praise for I Don’t Agree:

“In an age where rage is all the rage, here’s a manual for how we can agree to disagree and move forward. A pacey read written with hope, heart and a very welcome sense of humour.” Victoria Harper, Features Director, The Daily Telegraph

“If you think you don’t like conflict, you’ll love this, getting good at disagreeing isn’t just useful, it’s essential and Michael shows you how.”Sam Conniff, best selling author ‘Be More Pirate’ and ‘How To Be More Pirate’

See more praise here

Covid Can’t Stop This Kitchen – but the virus may be the least of the problems faced by homeless people

There are more than 450 soup kitchens in London. Amidst concerns for the safety of their volunteers, combined with a reduction in donations brought on by the virus, many have suspended operations. A handful, roughly 5%, have adapted the way they deliver their service to ensure their guests get a hot meal daily.

Our soup kitchen in Whitfield Street, central London is one of them. We have evolved from feeding around 120 daily guests on site, to a slickly run operation, serving hot, nutritious and tasty take-out food from a hole in the wall type set-up.

Led by our core team; Alex, Jessie, Chef Lauren (who gave up her job as the private chef on a super yacht to work here) and Naomi, we’ve been open every day of the pandemic. The service is much needed as the socially distanced queue outside testifies to…

This week I’ve helped on the impressively organised line that ensures the food is fresh cooked and served up while it’s still hot.

I can’t heap enough praise on the team. Most of us see a light at the end of the Covid tunnel. The only uncertainty is; how long is the tunnel? 

For our homeless guests, this journey must seem a lot longer and a lot heavier to traverse. The Whitfield Street team have been helping to lighten the load a little.

Blighted Horizons

For some of our guests though, even when Covid stops blighting the horizon, the light at the end of the tunnel may remain a distant spec…

Last July, after a long crowdfunding campaign, we launched Europe’s (and very possibly the world’s) FIRST ever mental health drop-in clinic inside a soup kitchen. It was widely covered at media – The BBC and ITV broadcast news featured the launch, as did The Guardian, the Big Issue and many others.

Because it involves one-to-one counselling at close quarters in a small consultation room on site, this is one area of service that we’ve had to suspend. We know this service is sorely missed for some of our visitors.

The reduction of funding for mental health services, social care and outreach in the NHS is one of the reasons that homelessness is more visible on our streets. According to it has increased by 141% since 2010. Not only that, as many as 80% of homeless people have some form of mental health problem.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Dr Brett Grellier, the counselling psychologist who leads our drop-in centre work, tells me that around 95% of homeless people have experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences, compared to just 10% of the wider UK population. These adverse childhood experiences include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, parents being incarcerated or addicted to drugs and being witness to domestic violence. Despite the great need, being homeless actually reduces the likelihood of being seen by a mental health professional. This makes sufferers more likely to remain one of London’s estimated (by Shelter) 180,000 rough sleepers and sofa surfers.

It is this fact that was the original inspiration behind our drop-in centre.

Covid obviously remains a significant problem for all homeless people.


In many other ways, it’s just something else to deal with to get through the day.

You can still donate to the ongoing work of the mental health drop in centre, and learn more about it here.

Dr Brett Grellier (front left), Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Dobrochna Zajas (front centre) with myself (left back), Whitefield Charity SK Corporation Chair Connie Jackson (centre back), and Soup Kitchen Director Alex Brown (right back). Fellow Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Gareth O Halloran (front right) accompanies the team in this photo taken at the time of the drop-in centre launch.

The PRIDE DISPLAY. How this gesture can make or break your career, your friendships, your life.

Pride has a universally recognised full body display. Even people who have been blind from birth use it – which shows that it’s instinctive rather than culturally learned. On any given Saturday afternoon this display, all be it in a highly exaggerated form, will be instantly familiar to football fans and footballers at every level of ability. It’s described as an ‘erect and expanded posture’ accompanied by a gaze which is directed squarely at the audience. Or at the TV cameras for those playing at the highest level.

Megan Rapinoe, the USA international winger, delighted audiences with her unique Pride Display during the 2019 women’s world cup finals.

It’s this display that generates knowledge amongst the audience that here is a person of value. In a 2017 paper called Cross-cultural regularities in the cognitive architecture of pride (Sznycer D, et al.) this interaction between the individual and the group is referred to as the advertisement/recalibration theory; The individual advertises his or her achievement with the pride display. The audience equally instinctively react to that display to evaluate or re-evaluate their esteem for that person.

The researchers found that the strength of the internal feeling of pride and the corresponding strength of their audience evaluation could both be anticipated in advance by an individual when considering various courses of action that might increase their group status. Making pride, that tricky much maligned emotion, an important factor in making those life choices that will get you support from your community and help you prosper. Useful.

Here’s the tricky bit – the value of your esteem can go down as well as up – a bit like shares. Which is a perfect metaphor. Your value to the group can change dramatically dependent on your reaction to ‘market’ conditions, and how expert your response was. In primitive society those market conditions might have been how an individual deftly brought down a large prey animal for the group to feed on. That person would have been invited to join other hunts and his or her esteem would have continued to rise, providing performance was maintained at similar quality. Even back then you were only as good as your last job. A reverse recalibration of esteem inside the group would occur if the same individual had messed it up completely, costing someone else an injury or the animal to escape. Or you just rub people up the wrong way. Learn how to use Pride to your advantage in a negotiation or disagreement in I Don’t Agree

In a world where rage is all the rage, here’s a manual for how we can agree to disagree and move forward. Written with hope, heart and a very welcome sense of humour.

Victoria Harper, Features Director, The Daily Telegraph.

“Who would have thought that a book about disagreement would be such fun? Brown’s thesis, zestily delivered, is that conflict is absolutely necessary in any kind of group, but we tend to be rather bad at it – shouting matches and shrinking violets never solved anything. I Don’t Agree navigates the barriers to constructive dialogue and challenges preconceptions of what a healthy culture looks like.”

– Adam Gale, Editor, Management Today.

Are you communicating with transparency?

DO YOU AGREE? The results of a study by Professors Jacquie D Vorauer and Stephanie Danielle Claude (called Perceived Versus Actual Transparency of Goals in Negotiation) showed that negotiators over-estimated the transparency of their own objectives. Not only that, it was found that neutral observers to the negotiation, who had been informed about the participant negotiator’s goals in advance, also overestimated the extent to which those goals would be transparent.

Which suggests to me that lots of us struggle to clearly communicate what it is we want. The academics described combatants as typically assuming that the validity of their position in the negotiation is glaringly obvious to their adversaries. Consequently, they saw their adversary’s opposition as self-interested and hostile. The reality is, they probably couldn’t work out what the hell was going on!

This may go some way to explaining why there’s a lot of shouting in the world. Do you agree?

Find out more about communicating transparently…

In a world where rage is all the rage, here’s a manual for how we can agree to disagree and move forward. Written with hope, heart and a very welcome sense of humour.

Victoria Harper, Features Director, The Daily Telegraph.

Collaboration – why we aren’t that good at it and what to do about it.

An edited version of this article appeared in Haymarket’s Management Today on Aug 3rd 2020.

One of the irritating things about collaboration is that it’s difficult to achieve. 

The other irritant is the frequency with which this C word gets used. It’s sprayed around so liberally inside organisational life that, if you’re like me, the mention of it sets your teeth on edge. I worked for one CEO who would have sprinkled collaboration on his chips. He dropped the word so often; he must have thought he could speak it into existence.

It’s not just him.

28 of the FTSE 100 claim collaboration –or its first cousin, teamwork – as a corporate value. Back in 2012, IBM’s Global C-Suite Study of 1,709 CEOs found that 75% saw collaboration as the key to future success. Eight years later, as I’m sure you’ve found, whenever the person at the top of an organisation is speaking, the chances are that, in a game of buzz word bingo, ‘collaboration’ will keep the fingers on the buzzers busy.

We’re obsessed.

But are we any good at it?

I believe this ongoing preoccupation is because successful collaboration is elusive. While we can see its potential to change our fortunes, it streaks by overhead, cometlike, to remind us that we don’t really understand how to do it.

It’s the same in politics. Many people wish that those in parliament could reach across party lines to solve the big problems – the plan for how we emerge from Corona lockdown would benefit from wider political perspectives. If only politicians were not hemmed in by their ideologies! Here again collaboration is comet like – streaking across the heavens to taunt those below.

I’m looking heavenwards and being taunted too. A report I read claimed collaboration projects fail most of the time.

If only we possessed a managerial sixth sense to identify in advance which collaborations will win. Imagine that. Morale would be stratospheric, interpersonal politics might be reduced to zero AND, once everyone’s palms got too sore to continue high fiving, we’d have more capacity to generate more growth.

That report is a 2015 study involving 106 companies called Why Supply Chain Collaboration Fails: The Socio-structural View of Resistance to Relational Strategies. Snappy! However, it’s a critical read with wider implications than supply chain economics.

A couple of familiar problems stood out:

Tarnished reputation: Managers struggled to assess in advance the true value of any collaboration. The resulting poor return on investment was said to tarnish the reputation of future collaborations.

Organisations ‘invested scarce resource in collaborations that offered no unique value co-creation potential’.

Territoriality: 73% of companies cited turf wars as a barrier. Partners could not break out of their siloed mindset to make collaboration happen. A telling remark was made by a senior manager…

People are more concerned about who will get the glory or the blame rather than evaluate whether or not a decision will benefit the entire company”.

This resonated with me. I recently asked a close colleague to help me with a collaboration project. There was a momentary far-away look in his eyes which seemed to suggest he was mentally grasping for the unobtainable. He then snapped out of his reverie to answer thus:

He’d been burned before.

Me too.

I see collaboration as a cocktail of roughly 3 parts optimism to one-part trepidation.  They can be an exciting opportunity, but the path is strewn with trip hazards related to human nature. Even the slightest problem, the failure for one partner to meet a deadline for instance, can cause crab like behaviour in which everyone scuttles back to their silos and may only emerge again to point an accusatory claw at the others. The management energy required to get things back on track may undo any benefits in the collaboration.

For me, the main flashpoint occurs at the intersection of two planes…

When worlds collide – the horizontal versus the vertical

Collaboration is a horizontal occupation – organisations need to work side by side to achieve a single aim.

Each partner also has their day-to-day obligations outside of the partnership – a budget target to achieve or bottom line to protect; I think of this in vertical terms.

It’s where the horizontal and vertical meet that conflict arises. If business in the vertical needs attention, a poor performing quarter or a client crisis, when you need all your people back in the room, then these will take priority. If you need to cut back on resource commitment the other partners may resent that if they have to fill the gap left by you.

I’ve also found that because each partner is tasked with hitting hard targets in their vertical, some are tempted to compete to maximise their share in the partnership to justify the time spent in collaboration – it may become tempting (in the worst cases) to actively undermine other partners, or to make a big deal over any mistake they may make. I’ve been on the receiving end of that, it hurts. I’ve also driven that sort of behaviour in my teams. Karma.

Going back to the research, I raised an eyebrow as I read that 73% of companies cited a refusal to share important information between partners as a source of frustration. 63% reported a lack of faith that individuals in one business unit would do anything to benefit another. This is clear siloed thinking writ large. I’ve been guilty of that.  

The fallibility of human nature seems to be the blocker. Fortunately, there’s a way through.

Make a List

I have no qualifications in psychology, but I’m sure most people have enough self-awareness to know their weaknesses and their bad habits. Even if we seldom admit our faults to others, it’s the admission to yourself that counts. From there it’s easy to set them down in list order. There are good reasons why you might do that…

Atul Gawande, in his 2008 best-seller The Checklist Manifesto, showed how simple checklists achieved unpredictable results in his profession – he’s a surgeon. At the time there were 230 million operations annually. On average, 7 million people were left disabled and 1 million died. Gawande nailed it down to human fallibility and attention, especially to the mundane details easily overlooked.

A five-point list which included the prompt to wash your hands with soap for 30 seconds, clean the patient’s skin with antiseptic, and wear a sterile gown reduced central line (a chest catheter used to administer drugs) infections from 11% to zero in the hospitals tested. Or 43 infections, 8 deaths and $2million dollars.

Another list developed by Gawande for the World Health Organisation, was designed to enshrine collaborative behaviour in the army of medical experts gathered around their patient on the operating table. You’d think that here of all places the collective weight of medical knowledge would be able to pin down collaboration, to stop it streaking about the firmament to help save a life. Yet in a survey of 1000 operating room staff in the US, Israel, Italy, Germany and Switzerland only 10% of anaesthesia residents, 28% of nurses and 39% of anaesthesiologists felt their operations had high levels of teamwork. By contrast; 64% of the surgeons, the operating theatre equivalent of the CEO, reported high levels of teamwork. Gawande reported the sense of teamwork he’d experienced in theatre was more credit to luck. He described the lack of it was due to the complexity of his job, which creates a division of tasks by expertise. This resulted in highly skilled people sticking narrowly to their domain.

Here I see the vertical plane of the personal clashing with the horizontal goals of collaboration. More so when I learned that surgeons walked into the room fully gowned, expecting everyone to be in place, including the patient, unconscious and ready to go. If you are a member of the in-theatre team, the surgeon may not even know your name – a commonplace occurrence. That’s not collaboration, it’s command and control.

It transpires that knowing the names of all the people working across a collaboration project makes the output more effective. Gawande included it in his list; before an incision is made, everyone confirms they have introduced themselves to each other. The team are then prompted to discuss the joint goals of the procedure. The patient is included –the patient must confirmed their identity and the site (on their own body) of the procedure – it’s all about encouraging teamwork.

If something as ordinary as a prompt to a surgeon to wash their hands can have such dramatic impact, then referring to a checklist of your bad habits could be powerful too. Especially if you meditate on it before entering into any collaborative endeavour – it might serve as an internal filter to guard against the emergence of your worst traits. Like those surgeons, you could wash your hands of your flaws to allow those horizontal goals to flourish.

I’m powerless to suggest what should be on your list but if you need a little advice, you might ask anyone who loves or respects you enough to be honest, but suitably diplomatic in keeping the list short…

With the possible exception of any children you might have.

I asked Freddie, one of my kids, to share his opinion on my worst traits. He paused for a moment, mentioned that I was quick to anger, a little tight with the pocket money, then once up and running expanded at length. I asked him to stop at one side of A4.

Having a list is one thing, putting it to work is another – it’s hard to make it habitual. There’s a solution;

Get this book today

Make a Ritual

Many successful people claim a ritual to be the seat of their success. Take Steve Jobs.  Each morning, it’s said he looked in the mirror to ask himself whether or not he was happy with whatever was on his to do list if today were his last day on Earth. If his inner voice answered in the negative over consecutive days, he made a mental note to shake things up.

Gawande’s lists were similar – they allowed people to ritualistically reflect on the task ahead and their role within the team. As he proved, they are effective in improving organisational culture.

I won’t claim my own ritual to be up to par with Jobs or Gawande, but it works for me, because it’s uniquely personal, and a little odd…

A collaboration usually starts with a meeting to kick things off.  I visualise the room where that might take place and then create a mental image of a coat check outside the door. This is a place to hand in various robes representing the less appealing aspects of my character. I find it more effective when I imagine the coat check to be my wife (Katy). Firstly, I remove my coat.  It’s an old favourite, representing my tendency to competitiveness whenever I find myself amongst a group. It has wide shoulders and padded elbows – great for shoving everyone aside. Katy takes the coat and raises an eyebrow, it’s not enough. Under my coat is often a flamboyantly purple, tonic Tuxedo. I call this my ‘it’s all about me’ jacket.  Removing this in my mind’s eye causes me to think about how any gathering of people shouldn’t be unduly influenced by a single personality – how everyone should be able to leave their ego at reception. The exercise enables me to back off on the more thrusting aspects of my personality and let other people’s ideas into the room. These two garments are usually enough, but each meeting of minds is unique, and there may be more garments to remove.

Collaboration in conclusion

Collaboration is a complex beast. It’s an act – something we physically do. It’s also a value and an aspiration. No wonder it’s a tough nut to crack – but there are some nutcrackers in the cutlery draw of our imagination… 

The act of making a shortlist of our shortcomings and ritualising the behaviour you aspire to, could mean better collaboration and less conflict at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical is possible.

Not so much dropping the C-Bomb but catching it.

An edited version of this article featured in Management Today on August 3rd 2020.

Do women possess a wider spectrum of competencies that make for more rounded leaders? If so, how can we men learn to WOMAN UP?

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph and also in Management Today on International Women’s Day on March 8th 2018 and led to the publication of my first book: I Don’t Agree – Why we can’t stop fighting and how to get great stuff done despite our differences. It is published by Harriman House and out now.

It’s well known that there are too many pairs of brogues strutting across the top of the glass ceiling. 

This isn’t new news, men have long dominated the boardroom, and advertising, the industry I work in, is as blighted as any other (indeed, there’s an argument that we shoulder more blame, having reinforced gender stereotypes through countless ads – but I’ll leave that one for another day).  

Of course, there’s an increasingly strong movement to redress this balance, as embodied by The Telegraph’s Women Mean Business campaign. To me, one of the interesting things about the movement is that it taps into a hunch that I’ve harboured for a while, and that research is starting to substantiate: women are simply more effective than men in business.

It all goes back to how we react to stress. For years – and you’ll probably remember this from biology at school – science believed that when threatened, humans underwent a ‘Fight or Flight’ process: we either came out swinging, or legged it. However, around the turn of the 21st century, scientists realised that a lot of the clinical work supporting ‘Fight/Flight’ had been performed on men. Gender simply hadn’t been considered when it came to scrutinising the data. We had based our insights around only one half of the species.

Men certainly do appear to have a strong Fight/Flight instinct. In 2012, Dr Joohyung Lee and Professor Vincent Harley identified a particular gene (SRY, or ‘The Macho Gene’ as news stories dubbed it at the time) that triggers the development of the testes, secretes hormones to masculinise the body, and appears to nudge our adrenal gland into overdrive when under stress. The fact that women do not have SRY points towards a concurrent conclusion from the world of science: that women’s Fight/Flight instinct is calmed by Tend/Befriend, a process first identified in work by researchers at the University of California

Evolution is at hand here to explain why. Fight/Flight fails as a survival strategy for women because historically they have taken primary roles in ensuring the little’uns become the big’uns. The same Darwinian forces that push men into Fight/Flight works the other way in females: high maternal investment favours responses that don’t jeopardise the survival of their children. Sociologically speaking, ‘befriending’ activity involves affiliation and collaboration within a group, creating networks to provide mutually assured support during stressful times. Tend/Befriend means reaching out, building trust, defusing conflict, putting the kettle on and breaking out the Rich Teas.

What does this mean within business? If I look without any prejudicial squint, I see clear indicators of Tend/Befriend in the businesswomen who help me run my organisation. 

Recent research supports the idea that such an approach is simply more effective. A 2015 survey of 2,000 people by the University of Cambridge found that female CEOs generated more profits than their male counterparts. They were more likely to maintain business outlooks favouring controlled growth, reinvesting profits over taking equity out. They were more averse to risks that may mess up their employees’ livelihoods. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to take equity out at the earliest opportunity, taking more risks to do so.

In a related sphere of influence, while doing the research for my book I detected evidence of Tend/Befriend in a UN report about the type of policies that get enacted by male and female politicians. To give one example, the number of clean drinking water projects in India in areas with women-led councils was found to be a massive 62% higher than those with men running the show. Plainly the guys think their constituents need to man up. Who needs water, right?

Get it today

Does this stray too close to the cliché of female leaders as ‘nurturing’ types? Well, a study by US leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman of 16,000 leaders (two thirds male, one third female) suggested women outperformed men in taking initiative, getting things done, and driving for hard results; and pointed out that these were ‘not nurturing competencies’, inferring that they are commonly assumed qualities of male leaders. 

Is it possible that these so-called ‘male’ business qualities are smoothed by the fine-grained sandpaper of Tend/Befriend? That women possess a wider spectrum of competencies, and therefore make more rounded leaders?  If so, we men clearly need to explore whether or not we can ignore the klaxon call of our testicles and… woman up.

My personal role models in this endeavour include two female business partners on my management board. Both can engage their inner Boadicea in the hand-to-hand combat sometimes required in business, and in the next breath are elbow-deep creating an induction programme that ensures our newbies have a motivating experience in their first weeks. Their approach contrasts favourably to my past motivations, which have all been about competing for and closing of deals – actions borne of fight mode. 

Since becoming aware of how male responses can colour business making decisions, I have actively tried to channel Tend/Befriend. It’s proved effective in the staple activity of ad agencies, the group brainstorm. I have noticed men seem to speak more in those meetings, not necessarily in a good way: often speaking over women and diverting the course of that person’s creative flow, refocusing the room to the interrupter’s idea. Many brilliant trains of thought are ruined in this way. We have put in place protocols to guard against ‘diverters’, including a 50/50 gender split, and someone is assigned to call out such behaviour if it occurs.

Can I continue to counter my male Fight/Flight instincts? Interestingly, the Zenger Folkman study ranked gender against 16 competencies deemed essential to success, including communicating prolifically, developing others and being collaborative (women came out top in 12). To describe these qualities as competencies is salient, because a competency is learned. I may be hardwired to fight or flight, but I can cling to the idea that, with practice, I could become a tenderer befriender. 

Whether I achieve such a goal or not, it’s clear that inequality is holding business back. We really don’t need to be sat in opposing camps factionalised by gender (especially when gender is a spectrum). By making the playing fields level between men and women, we will not only improve the way we do business, but everything we do in life.

To reach that particular promised land, we need all the talent out there, working in harmony from a position of jointly held power.

The above article originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph on International Women’s Day (March 8th) 2018 as part of their Women Mean Business campaign. It is an edited extract from my first book; I Don’t Agree – why we can’t stop fighting – and how to get great stuff done despite our differences.

Visit the original source article here

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

The lost art of debate: when did we lose the ability to agree to disagree?

Public discourse feels more polarised than ever before. This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on July 1st 2020 and is an edited extract from my first book; I Don’t Agree – Why we can’t stop fighting and how to get great stuff done despite our differences. It is published by Harriman House and out now….

In the early days of the pandemic many people were baking bread and rediscovering their kindness gene. That seems like a long time ago now. We’ve gone from clapping for carers to uncaringly slapping down anyone who may not share the same views as us on everything from race, gender, equality, class and the wealth gap.

Many people I know are capable of instantaneous combustion into a bin kicking rage at the mere mention of the ‘plan’ for reopening schools. I have seen the same level of frustration from those who are desperate for them to open too. It’s difficult for any measured argument to cut through the clatter but worse, it seems we’ve all stopped listening to each other anyway. Everywhere you look some shouty ‘influencer’ is pounding someone else for daring to see things differently.

This is most apparent in the conflagration of debates arising in the wake of the BLM protests: tear down a statue or let it stand? Legitimate protest or an act of vandalism? Venturing an opinion either way may attract a threat from the other side to tear you down. You don’t agree with them? Well you’re cancelled so there.  

These arguments thrive on social media. Big issues are over-simplified by self-appointed citizen journalists, deliberately polarised to present someone or some group as the villains. Bubbling animosity can quickly become a firestorm. JK Rowling is threatened with rape and murder for her views; do concerns for male violence towards women trump the rights of trans people to express their identity? It’s all opinions (forcibly expressed) and no solutions. 

What happened to the ability to take a deep breath and take perspective?

It should be OK to communicate the fact you see things differently. It should be equally OK for someone to disagree with your beliefs. That’s normal human discourse. At least it used to be. But it feels like real debate is being put into lockdown just as we emerge from it.

How do we agree to disagree and just get on with stuff?

In 2010, I spectacularly fell out with my fellow shareholders in a business I ran for a decade. Minor disputes over the direction of the enterprise turned into a power struggle, culminating in a firework’s display of red-hot emotions on the office floor. 

We could have sold seats on Ticketmaster, but there was no going back. 

In the period of reflection that followed the collapse of that partnership, one question kept coming back: was my partner’s position in the argument as valid as mine? Only now, with the benefit of hindsight, can I confirm that yes, it probably was. Actually, what an idiot, I’ve done it again – strike the word ‘probably’ from that previous sentence. Even after ten years, it’s hard to acknowledge the other side’s perspective.  

My learnings from that time inspired my new book – I Don’t Agree; why we can’t stop fighting and how to get great stuff done despite our differences.

It’s out now

One of the first things I learned during my research was why the argument I had with my former business partners ended up the way it did. I couldn’t recognise my attribution bias: a state of mind where the deadlocks that prevent everyone moving forward in a disagreement are likely to be blamed on the other side – by both sides. 

We actively seek out evidence supporting our position in the argument and our negative opinion of those on the other side; becoming blind to any evidence that suggests the other side might have a point. In this way our prejudices are reinforced. 

We have a preference for what the clever folks in lab coats call similar-others. Meanwhile, we dislike dissimilar others. It has also been shown we tend to hold positive expectations of people who look and act like us, anticipating that they will be fairer, more trustworthy and more intelligent than those who are different. 

But if we remain vigilant to our biases, while sharpening our cultural sensitivities, we are free to explore less confrontational ways to confront an argument. We can become more generous to those who might just hold a different view point. And how do we do this?  Practice a little of what is called Status Affirmation

I learned about this from the work of Dr Corrine Bendersky at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In her 2014 study she showed how people with conflicting political views could be persuaded to view their opponent as less adversarial. Berdensky used the Dictator Game – a famous experiment in social psychology in which a player (the dictator) decides how to share a prize (often a sum of money) with a second player. The latter has no influence over the decision and no rights of complaint should the dictator opt to share nothing. All they have is their persuasive powers.

You might expect that when people play this game with strongly held opposing opinions it may result in dictators who keep all the prize, all the time. 

Not so. Having screened participants for their political affiliations around a hot issue of the day (then it was the so called Obamacare legislation), Berdensky reported that dictators gave away an average of around 40pc more of their prize – a pot of 10 tickets for a lottery – to those opponents who disagreed with them about the Obamacare act but who had also affirmed the dictators’ status. Opponents who had merely shoutily disagreed with the dictator without doing the affirmation earned zilch a lot of the time. 

So, how to affirm someone’s status in a disagreement?

It’s about careful choice of words. You simply acknowledge your different opinion to your opponent by saying something like…

‘I know we disagree about this, but…’ 

And then you begin to work in the affirmation. The exact wording will vary depending on the subject, but it might be along the lines of; ‘I really admire people of principle like yourself, who can persuasively outline why they stand by their beliefs.’

Or ‘I understand your position and I see your viewpoint is increasingly influential in the world.’

After you have affirmed the status of your rival you might then go on to outline your argument, subject to any concession you might make to their point of view.

Some words of caution: Silke Eschert and Bernd Simon, from the Institute of Psychology at Kiel University, urged for a recognition of equal status, not high status. A famous quote springs to mind – I disagree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Worth bearing in mind next time you wade into a dispute with any firmly held opinion.

Will people listen more in the future? There’s still much to do. But, back to my first point; that some of us aren’t really hearing the wider perspective. It is time to stop shouting down and listen up instead.

This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on July 1st 2020 and is an edited extract from my first book; I Don’t Agree – Why we can’t stop fighting and how to get great stuff done despite our differences. It’s published by Harriman House (£14.99) and out now.

The source article can be found here

LABOUR CONFERENCE 2017 – a first time delegate reports



DAY ONE: Protecting The Community

The family gatherings I am used to attending usually end in a sing-along of some description. I blame failed musical ambitions and a taste for real ale. This Labour Party get together on the South Coast was unusual in that it started with one.

The now familiar refrain that is Seven Nation Army set to the chant of Oh Jeremy Corbyn was chorused to the heavens by the massed ranks of the Labour membership as they stood to applaud the opening of Conference 2017. The man himself, watching bemusedly from the stage had the good grace to look a little embarrassed as he accepted the tribute with a smile and a wave. Personally, after the electric summer Jeremy has had, I would have not been surprised to see him join in full voice while ripping off his shirt and insisting that Tom Watson parade him around the room at shoulder height. You will perhaps be disappointed to learn that this didn’t happen. Instead, the deputy leader stood at JC’s side and displayed equal good grace in appearing to be overjoyed as the throng echoed on.

After such a kick-off, it would be true to say that the rest of conference lived up to expectations. There was surprise and delight in equal measure. It was inclusive and inspiring. Sure, disagreement and dissent did materialise – conference is a family gathering after all, but the after effects of the general election result and all the super heated positivity it has created failed to lower any high spirits. We were even blessed with sunshine – the alignment of that particular star with what is normally a wet September weekend perhaps a metaphor too far for the newly energised Labour Party. Apologies for any further clumsy analogies – my only excuse is that I am a newcomer to the party conference scene.

It fell to Lloyd Russell Moyle, the recently elected and Tory ousting MP for Kemptown to welcome all to Brighton. Drawing on Labour’s national 2017 successes as a parallel with Brighton and Hove Albion’s arrival in the Premiership, Lloyd gave a consummate performance which did not betray the nerves he said he felt on being asked to open the show. There were however no calls from the floor for Jeremy to manage the Seagulls! A team that perhaps could do with a touch of the Corbyn effect!

...but none for Theresa May!

The chair (Glenis Willmott) was then moved to speak on the wider climate of politics; Trump, Macron and the rumblings of the far right in Europe as a backdrop to the UK scene; in which the rejection of UKIP, austerity and the resurgence of Labour under Corbyn has given hope to all – and it was hope with a capital H that proved to be the on-going theme of all four days of conference.

Conference Arrangements Committee

Download Day 1 CAC report and guide here

On to the main order of business for day one – Harry Donaldson the Chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee outlined the responsibility of all delegates;   To decide which 8 subjects  from all the contemporary motions submitted by trade unions, socialist societies and CLPs would be prioritised for debate for †he remainder of Conference 2017. A responsibility that would create lengthy discussions healthier than a fully funded NHS with no private sector interest!

Dianne Abbot was the headline act of Day One, but before the queen of Hackney graced the stage, the first of the speakers from the floor were invited to make the first contributions:

There were voices from Bristol West, Birkenhead and Manchester Gorton who had reservations about Sadiq Khan’s invitation to speak at conference. All expressed views that London gets enough airtime. That the regional voices of other elected Metro Mayors  would be refreshing for conference.

Just as we were all appreciating the subtext, thinking here of Khan’s criticism of Corbyn in the run up to the general election, a further delegate invited to the podium urged for Sadiq’s appearance on the grounds of his large personal mandate when elected to the office of London mayor. This received a mix bag of emotive outpourings. Cheered in some sections and jeered in others, the chair rightfully called the floor to order. This delegate has some sympathy; Khan’s victory was hugely symbolic as both the first Asian and first Muslim mayor of London and no one should forget the divisive and despicable campaign staged against Khan by his mayoral rival Zak Goldsmith.

Democracy broke out in a deep red rash: Harlow CLP challenged conference to consider the North Korea USA stand off. Stroud CLP questioned why there was only one motion on the issue of education, while Guildford South spoke against trigger ballots.  Islington North reminded all that the membership is as important than any single MP. Several points were made about disabled access, and conference did seem to be ill prepared for this – the most poignant of which was the chair of Disability Labour who found herself in what must have been the embarrassing position of criticising her own party. All of this debate proved to be a dynamic precursor for the days to come; some  serious challenges would be issued to policy and party bureaucracy from the gathered membership in the hall. Underlining to this observer that this party is a very healthy, very vibrant beast that is genuinely for the many, and not just the few.

Will the real iron lady please stand up.

When Diana Abbot did arrive, she was greeted with a standing ovation that was so much more than an appreciation of all that she has achieved in politics. This was also a very palpable gesture of solidarity against the personal abuse this particular MP had suffered during the general election campaign.

Diana has somehow pre-empted the mood of the crowd in her speech: declaring to further adulation the words “I’m still standing” Getting into her stride along the day’s theme of Protecting The Community, she spoke to the cuts in public services in the face of terror atrocities – committing Labour to reversing them. She spoke to the fact that austerity undermines law and order as much as it does health and committed Labour to recruiting 10,000 new police officers. She spoke movingly of Grenfell and promised 3000 more firefighters, and an end to deregulation – the fire brigade, she said, will be the lead agency for assessing and signing off risk in building regulations – as opposed to the private sector. She would end indefinite detention for immigrants and delirium ensued upon guaranteeing the rights of the 3 million EU nationals resident in the UK. The announcement of a full enquiry into Orgreave resonated profoundly – the potential correcting of an injustice more than three decades old spoke to the very reason the Labour movement was born. Download her full speech here.

Highlights: Other speakers from the floor Day 1: Daniel Harris from Hove CLP told a moving story of how his mental health issues had catapulted him into homelessness. His passionate exhortation to build more social housing than Labour has yet committed to was hugely appreciated in the hall. Meanwhile  Lauren Stocks a blue haired future red firebrand described the experience of anxiety, pressure and mental health issues arising in the personal narratives of those young people studying their GCSEs. The record books have yet to confirm whether or not Laura was the first person to use the word bollocks from the podium at any party conference – A story which made it all the way to the Daily Mirror Watch here.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi – A Jewish delegate from Chingford CLP spoke eloquently about how legitimate criticism of the government of Israel in their conduct towards Palestine did not amount to anti-semitism, a topic which seemed to dog conference proceedings, at least according to some sections of media. Most inside the hall would agree that the tone of the debate on the Israeli / Palestinian issue was passionate rather than prejudicial.

Other speakers:

Andrew Gwynne Shadow Secretary of State for Communities; Download Andrew Gwynne Speech Here, Ian Lavery MP and Labour Party Chair, Ian McNichol General Secretary Labour Party, who made the first of what would be several name checks to Momentum over the course of conference, Mike Payne GMB and chair of Wales Executive, Rt Hon Carwyn Jones who opened up in Welsh and received an tsunami of appreciation when, in a testament to devolution, he informed conference that there is no privatisation in any hospital in Wales.


  • Announcement of policy directives – see Dianne Abbot, Ian Lavery and Andrew Gwynne speeches.
  • Agreement by vote to focus conference around Rail, Social Care, NHS, Housing, Grenfell, Growth and Investment, Workers Rights and Public Sector Pay. Our delegation from Brighton Pavilion had voted for Rail, NHS, Housing and Learn Direct – we felt that an educational theme needed introducing to proceedings:

How the votes to decide conference priorities played out.

  • The Conference Arrangements Committee report was agreed

DAY TWO: Oh Emily Thornberry

Brexit, the economy, jobs, living standards and equalities.

Download the CAC Report for Monday 25th Sept

The molten hot topic of Brexit and Internationalism has liquified politics and it burnt a few fingers here!  Underlined by a well attended pro remain demo outside the Brighton Centre the day before, the  subject was prime focus for the reconvening of conference.

No free movement for Brexit protestors!

Glenis Willmott, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party in what was her last major speech ahead of her retirement as an MEP spoke of her fight to remain in Europe. She underlined the need to extend that fight to any exit deal that threatens the peace in Northern Ireland, or undermines the peace of mind of EU nationals in the UK or those Brits who have carved out lives in Europe, or attacks workers rights and safety standards. Download Glenis Willmott speech here.

Emily Thornberry opened her conference address with a cheeky reference to Corbyn’s now infamous mistimed high five gesture as the general election results came in, and with comic prowess she described the Brexit process as a paternity test that Boris Johnson did not wish to take. She spoke to the precarious state of peace in the world,

Not another high five Emily please!

calling out the world’s human rights abusers and sabre rattlers; openly referring to Trump as akin to a rogue dictator while calling for a Labour government to challenge international injustices. A stark contrast she said to the spineless unwillingness of the Conservatives to take on such a mission. Download Emily Thornberry speech here.   Keir Starmer criticised the failings of the Tory Brexit negotiators which need no repeating here. He spoke to the need of a flexible approach that swept no options off the the table, suggesting that remaining in a form of customs union with the EU would be one of the possible end destinations for Labour Download Keir Starmer speech here.

John McDonnell was in combative mood, and in the main he delivered a Tory bashing speech for the gallery! Stand out points for me included the IFA study which indicated that writing off student debt would cost £10 Billion by 2050, and that action was needed now by the incumbent government.  Calling out the scale of profits made from PFI deals in the past six years; some £831 Million, was also revelatory and eye watering.  His subsequent announcement that companies based in tax havens should not own shares in PFI’ schemes as well  as confirming that, under Labour, all PFI contracts will be bought back in house inspired conference to its feet. Download John McDonnell speech here.

Sadiq Khan: Download Sadiq Khan speech here.

Debbie Abrahams: Download Debbie Abrahams speech here.

Speakers from the floor: A common theme emerged of how the problems of the global economy have been visited upon migrants in context of Brexit  – the emotive testament from an Italian migrant from Hackney CLP told how unwelcome she and her family now felt in post referendum UK touched all who heard it. Ian Page from Bath CLP went so far as to state that, as the evidence for remaining in Europe was overwhelming,  a reconsideration should be on the cards. This was in contrast to  Daryl Hannah from Hove CLP who reminded conference that, as democratic socialists, the result of the referendum should be respected. Turkey and Palestine were both mentioned. Jean Butcher from UNISON informed conference that supply chains spread poverty around the world and reminded us all to of Dr Martin Luther King’s quote – before you eat breakfast in the morning you have depended on half the world. It’s true – I had a banana and a coffee; from the Caribbean via Columbia to Brighton.

The beast of Bolsover; the legendary Dennis Skinner was also called from the floor. He gave a typically barnstorming performance in regard to where the money will come from to fund our manifesto promises – his advice, to emulate the private sector and borrow it:


Reference Back. There were two instances of note:

  1. Nottingham South called for Brexit policy to be ‘referenced back’ to the National Policy Forum; the delegate concerned wanting the UK to remain in the customs union and the European Economic Area. Conference overwhelmingly voted against the delegate and this was reflected in the votes by the Pavilion contingency.
  2. Taunton Deane referenced back a section of the National Policy Forum on welfare demanding the scrapping of all planned welfare cuts. The Pavilion delegation voted overwhelmingly to support Taunton, and it seemed, from our vantage point,  that the rest of conference did too. However the chair recounted several times inducing a fair bit of tension, before the vote was carried in favour of Taunton to send that section of policy to be reconsidered by the forum. Much cheering ensued.

Votes – acceptance of the international policy commission report; Economy, Business and Trade Policy Commission Report; Work, Pensions and Equalities Commission Report

Affiliates vote only: Contemporary Composite 1 – Growth and Prosperity Contemporary Composite 2 – Public Sector Pay Contemporary Composite 3 – Public Sector Pay Contemporary Composite 4 – Workers’ Rights

DAY THREE: In the black with a white elephant

Early years, education and skills; investing in the future; health and care

Download CAC Report for Tuesday 26th Oct

A big day for conference democracy.  Voting in the ballot for two seats on the National Constitutional Committee, alongside other votes to decide a number of CLP and NEC rule changes would lead to dramatic interludes on the conference floor, and no less than  two Pavillion delegates made it onto the podium to express some firm views: Both were well supported from the floor.20170926_131715.jpg

Boris Johnson’s attempt to gatecrash Lab17 dressed as a white elephant did not fool conference security.

Diana Holland, national treasurer gave an overview of party finances, confirming to all that the party was now, largely thanks to a massively expanded membership, out of debt, mortgage free, and in the black to the tune of over 6 million quid – nice work!

Our very own Amanda Evans, resplendent in a very distinctive hat, and in her role as local treasurer stepped up to the lecturn and demanded to know why, given we had just heard the national party was in such fine fettle financially, that a stall in the exhibition hall was denied to us on the grounds that ‘the national party could not afford to give the space away! Adding insult to injury we found yet another Labour Party merchandise stand, to add to the other Labour Party merchandise stands present, in the space ordinarily reserved for the local hosts – us! The question went unanswered but the point was well made.

Pavilion secretary Claire Wadey moved an emergency motion on the issue of the ongoing suspension of local member Greg Hadfield during the fallout of the 2016 Brighton and Hove District Labour Party elections.  Claire eloquently described the lack of information coming back from the NEC over an unnecessarily  prolonged period of time as ‘justice delayed, justice denied’. Momentum had pressed for support of Pavilion’s motion and there seemed to be a lot of support in the hall – prior to Claire moving the motion I distributed leaflets outlining the full nature of our complaint and here again there was much sympathy. However, following a dramatic card vote, we lost in the hall.


The main speakers today included Rebecca Long Bailey who spoke excitingly of being at the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, and how the pace of technological change calls for new models of ownership, alluding to how intellectual property rights and the fundamentals of business are structured to benefit the few over the many. Download Rebecca Long Bailey speech.

Angela Rayner, my favourite member of the shadow cabinet was sensational, referring back to her own start in life as a young mum of 16 with no qualifications. Speaking to how Sure Start had been instrumental in giving her the confidence to get to where she is now. Her promise to rebuild Sure Start with an injection of £500 Million was both personal and emotive.

Naomi Klein, The author, activist, and eagerly awaited speaker to this conference was up next. Speaking to the global uncertainty in the world and how the new left movement centred in the UK continues to provide hope to the poor, oppressed, and under privileged people of the world. You really should watch this particular speech…

Tom Watson’s moment on the podium was remarkable in that he whipped the throng into (yet another) chorus of Oh Jeremy Corbyn. I later saw the Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack speak at a fringe event organised by the Labour Representation Committee. Matt joked that Tom Watson had not bothered to learn the words to that song until the general election results had come through – hilarious!


Places on the National Executive Committee:  Anna Dyer and Emina Ibrahim, also known as ‘the left candidates’ won 71 per cent of the vote at conference – a landslide. Both candidates were supported by Brighton Pavilion.

National Policy Forum report on education:   A paragraph was ‘referenced back’ by  show of hands because it failed to clearly commit to proper democratic control of schooling, with no clear refutation of academy type education.

NHS: Another section of the National Policy Forum was ‘referenced back’ because of a  glaring oversight that had gone unnoticed by all except one delegate in the room. The current policy committing to make the NHS the ‘preferred provider’ to the NHS, when in fact it should have read, the ONLY provider! The show of hands in support of this reference back was overwhelming!

Rule Changes:


The NEC recommendations for voting to rule changes can be seen above while the actual results of votes can be downloaded in full here: CAC Report of Ballot Results and Statement-3

DAY 4: The leader’s speech

JC day today! The grand finale to four days of finely tuned debate was preceded by a selection of policy seminars in which delegates were invited to help shape ongoing Labour policy.

policy 20170927_092123

The Brexit seminar was well attended and the panel included Emily Thornberry, Kier Starmer, Glenis Willmott and Barry Gardiner – the full shadow Brexit team. Gardiner spoke to the notion that rising GDP is concomitant with rising inequality which Starmer underlined, drawing on the Tory agenda for post Brexit Britain as deregulation, deregulation, deregulation. Adding a poignant thought on why the phrase ‘take back control’ had such resonance with the public at the time of the referendum as a phenomena that Labour better needed to understand; the list of things that might have made it onto such a list would be potentially very long, but the issue of immigration caught Labour on the back foot he said, and the vote was further bound up in freedom of movement. The clarification of Labour’s policy on the customs union and freedom of movement as announced in Starmer’s earlier speech was very welcome. A delegate from Carlise CLP made the observation that her local council bins policy got more scrutiny that the EU trade deal proposals, a phrase which both Starmer and Gardiner threatened to steal for future usage.

The big one!

The Work, Pensions and Equalities seminar hosted by Deborah Abrahams and Diana Holland was not short of delegates wishing to contribute. Pavilion’s Juliet McCaffrey spoke to the need to consider the Gypsy and Travellers community in equality legislation, and your very own correspondent suggested an equality idea that Diana Holland later complimented, and said would be considered as future policy: The legal obligation for all corporations to hire a Diversity and Inclusion manager to guard against unconscious bias in such equality issues as setting of pay, promotion and hiring, and to minimise gender pay gaps while expanding equal opportunities – BOOM!

Jeremy Corbyn – Oh Jeremy Corbyn – Oh Jeremy Corbyn etc, etc…

Corbyn quickly found his stride, plainly the endless campaigning has done wonders for his stage presence, and ability to capture a room. Ruminating on how some political theorising states that elections are won from the centre ground, he suggested that this might be true as long as you accept that the political centre of gravity has now moved – to the left. Check the leader out…



Debate, democracy, drama – tick

Energetic, educational, entertaining – tick

Inspiring?  Absolutely.  Frustrating? Sometimes. Would I come again? Hell yes.

To paraphrase Corbyn in his conference address, the Labour party in its current vibrant form is now the mainstream. As I looked around the packed hall teeming with talent, ideas, energy  and the will to challenge party bureaucracy, it seemed hard to refute that  Labour is the government in waiting.


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