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Telling Stories

Stephen White
Negotiation Narrative Stories
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Only hours after the publication of the EHRC Report on Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement distancing himself from the findings in that report and claiming that the problem had been exaggerated by factions inside and outside the Party and by the media. As a result, he was suspended from the Party. The following day his close allies suggested that he was preparing to sue the Party to get the suspension overturned.

Only hours after voting closed in the US Presidential elections, when it looked like Donald Trump was likely to lose the election, albeit, by a narrower margin than had been forecast, he threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court to stop election fraud, evidence of which has not yet turned up.

Only hours after the publication of details of the second lockdown in England, which starts today, faith leaders were writing to the Prime Minister demanding that he changes the rule to allow prayer services to take place during lockdown, and 71 church leaders started legal action to demand a judicial review on the matter.

Sue, sue, sue – now becoming the standard response in public life to not getting your own way. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the several occasions that the UK Government found itself in the Supreme Court in 2019 as a result of disaffection by a number of (mainly) Conservative MPs and led by Gina Miller, disgusted with the progress of Brexit. I suppose that suing is at least a healthier option than ignoring the law and going for direct action, such as we have seen in Poland (abortion) and Nagorno-Karabakh (ethnicity) recently.

There is one factor which emerges as these litigious activities become more common – to be successful they require a narrative.  The litigant needs to build up a story, often over an extended period of time, which supports the claims that they make. So:

For months, from the run-up to the 2019 General Election, the Labour Party has been wringing its hands, excusing itself over the way Anti Semitism has been handled personally and collectively by the party. In May an 800-page report on Anti-Semitism in the Party (not the EHRC report), drawn up at the beginning of the year as part of the submission by the Party to the EHRC to explain their actions on handing the problem was leaked. Much of the content of the report focusses on factional infighting and contradictory messaging which confuses (deliberately?) the central theme of Anti-Semitism with other issues. The internal report was leaked as part of a campaign to minimise any effect of the then unpublished EHRC report. The leaking itself, which resulted in making it high-profile, was part of the narrative.

For months Donald Trump has been suggesting that postal voting in the US is unsafe, undemocratic and subject to fraud. There is virtually no evidence of this, and experts have said so. His objective in part was to score points off those who rail against his Coronavirus policies  – postal voting has particular appeal and usefulness for people  who are fearful of the disease (and who are therefore more encouraged by the attitude of the Democrats.) But mostly he wanted to set up the narrative that would allow him to challenge any possible threat to his winning the election.

For months, in fact since the beginning of the first lockdown in March, there have been noises in Parliament and in the media about consequent removal of civil liberties and human rights, mainly from those on the right-wing of the Tory party. This has been fuelled by a woeful lack of common purpose amongst the scientists who have contributed to the assumptions about how the effects of the virus will play out.  Faith leaders, always at the forefront of the fight for human rights (quite rightly) use this narrative to re-enforce their position about the right to practice religion.

So there is my evidence – if you like, my narrative. Transferring the idea into a business scenario my point is that if you want to improve the chance that your argument will dominate when you are not getting your own way then work on establishing a  narrative which over a period of time acts to bolster and defend your position. The story doesn’t necessarily have to be true, nor even believable, but telling it over and over again works wonders.  

 

Stephen White
More by Stephen White:
Invention
My Way or Norway
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