A key skill in public affairs is being able to understand and work with audiences from a range of political perspectives. But if you approach the problem with fixed political ideas then it could all go very wrong. So we all need to take steps to challenge our political bias.
It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to have a party, or issue, of choice and to be heavily involved in it. But to deliver the best advice to address the challenge faced, you need to leave preconceived ideas at the door.
There is no disguising that this can be really difficult. But consider the alternatives. You have to know and understand the key audiences and be able to communicate with them through the right channels and in the right way. If your own bias gets in the way of that then you have problems. Many issues need to work across parties. That requires a breadth of understanding and the ability to flex. Come at an issue from a particular perspective and that becomes much more difficult to achieve.
So what are some of the ways that we can start to challenge our existing political bias?
- Podcasts – I am a huge fan of podcasts. It allows you to hear a range of views in a very immediate fashion. How about mixing the Spectators’ Coffee House Shots with the Guardian’s Today in Focus? All the leading media outlets now deliver a range of podcasts alongside the more specialist listening available that focuses on sectors or elements of the profession.
- Wider reading – take some time to read books about the ‘other side’ but alongside the free daily email alerts as well. These allow you to see a range a perspectives on the same issue of the day. I can’t start the day without the Politico London Playbook.
- Work with colleagues from all sides – this is not always possible in smaller teams but I have always learned a lot from listening to views around me. It also useful to get their views on your work. Actively encourage them to critique your work as that helps to identify where your unintended bias may be. You are then in a position to do something about it.
- Network widely – whether you can be friends with someone from another political party is questioned by some but do not just stick to your home territory. For instance, attend all the party conferences, if possible. You can then really see how the parties act and behaviour. Assuming that is a good thing…
- Case studies and award winners – make active efforts to read about the good work of others. Award entries, and especially wins, may be good for the ego and for marketing purposes but they also highlight great work. We can learn from these.
Public affairs may focus on politics, political communications and Parliament but we should all be aware of the danger of becoming too political sometimes. That is especially the case at the current time when party politics looks like becoming more complicated and fractured, within the parties themselves as well as with new parties being established.
The less you pay attention and address political bias, the less effective your work could become.