I was listening to a very interesting and absorbing interview this morning on RTE Radio I with Martin McGuinness. Now, before I go any further, I am not a member of any political party, nor do I want to be. I am a quiet voter who normally votes for individuals rather than parties: such is the way the political system is set up in Ireland and I am not a Republican, nor would I ever vote for Sinn Fein. So, when I heard that Martin McGuinness was going to be interviewed this morning I was intrigued enough to get beyond his turn of phrase which normally grates on me too much (e.g., deliberate repetition of : ‘on the island of Ireland’). And I am glad I did because I learned a lot about influence and how change is brought about, such profound change that it blows the mind, quite literally, which is what happened in Northern Ireland when it reached a place of peace (although I understand there is lots more to be done to maintain and grow peace).
Martin McGuinness and the Queen of England shaking hands, is an image that will stay with us all for ever. It was an amazing moment in history. The man who said ‘the conflict will never be solved with votes, only militarily’, was now shaking hands with the monarch of ‘the enemy’. How amazing is humanity: our ability to change, our resilience, our motivation and flexibility. What got Martin McGuinness there is a complex story, not for here, but I was particularly struck by a few things he had to say about influence, negotiation and persuasion.
One of them was the relationship he built up with Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister of Britain. It was the personal relationship that Tony Blair took the time to nurture with McGuinness and Adams, that helped to open up their hearts to new ideas and a different perspective. Both McGuinness and Gerry Adams would regularly be invited to Chequers to spend several hours on a Saturday with Tony Blair, with the single aim of getting to know each other personally. McGuiness thinks that this was crucial to the negotiations on peace: the building up of personal relationships, the time taken to get to know each other first. These were, he says, ‘very important engagements ‘ which helped towards the enormous change that happened later.
What I can take away from history, and this is history in action, is that the sincere, genuine personal bond we take the time to build with other people, is crucial to our ability to negotiate with and influence them. This can be something as small as taking time to ask them how their weekend went, or if their child who was sick is now better; to find out what their favourite restaurant is or share a story about sport, before getting down to the task at hand. Research has shown, that where people like each other, where there is a bond of some sort, even if it is quickly formed based on something familiar between them e.g.,’ oh, we follow the same soccer team’, they find it easier to move towards the other person’s position, ideas and perspective. History teaches us that we can take this powerful method and use it to learn from others, grow our ideas and negotiate for change. It’s as simple and as complex as that!
Anne Marie Crowley, based in Cork, Ireland, is a free-lance Coach and Trainer in the field of behavioural change for individuals and business.
Anne Marie Crowley is the founder of Crowley Personal and Business Change.