The Importance Of Different Conversations

Conversations are fundamental to public affairs. Not talking to people leads to narrow thinking and a failure to develop networks. We must all consider our conversations if we are to deliver good advice.

The starting point for any assessment of the range of conversations available to us is to think about why we are talking to people.

Widen perspectives

In a work setting, there are two key aspects – to ensure you develop a wider perspective and to help develop relationships.

Good public affairs advice must know and understand a range of political opinions as well as how audiences could react to a campaign or policy idea. This requires the good information and understanding that comes from conversations. It could otherwise be easy, for instance, to fall into the trap of thinking that a whole political party thinks in a certain way. That is rarely the case. Nuance and the ability to identify streams of thought can be easily overlooked in those circumstances.

So, conversations need to be about broadening horizons, understanding perspectives, and breaking out of silos. It is easy to fall into the trap of only talking to the same or similar people all the time. That may be where we instinctively feel most comfortable but that rarely leads to the best advice.

The Westminster political system is not as prescriptive as many others. A consequence of that is the ability of government to decide on its own course of action rather than having to follow a defined procedure. Again, a broad range of opinions are useful in helping to work out the course of action that government may take.

Develop relationships

But public affairs is the quest to become a trusted adviser. That is centred on the ability to engage and take the time involved to develop relationships. These relationships evolve over time.

It requires not just the ability to prove trust on both parts but also, where possible, to talk about things other than politics or policy. It should be a mix of the personal as well as the professional.

Again, this is best achieved through conversations.


Once we understand why we need the conversations, we can then consider who we should be talking to.

That consideration needs to ensure that we are not becoming too narrow in our perspectives but also that we are looking to develop the type of deeper relationships we need with key stakeholders.

Poor advice can come from inaccurate thinking due to a failure to know and understand a range of perspectives. It is the public affairs equivalent of staying in the Westminster bubble and we all see the political consequences of that. As the now very old BT adverts used to say, ‘It’s good to talk’.



Image by PeopleImages on iStock

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Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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