Humility, critical thinking and sympathetic listening are all imperatives for building a meaningful conversation.

Have these skills been diminished by the modern, transactional interactions that have subsumed the discursive meetings of the pre-COVID era? Or were they already in decline?

Karl Albrecht, the acclaimed business consultant, writes: “People who throw out dogmatic opinions like little verbal hand grenades usually don’t recognise the subtle reactions of avoidance by others, who feel a vague sense that they’re being bombarded or bullied.”

Intellectual humility has been proposed to be a critical factor in facilitating civil discourse. But does this humility have a place in business?

Humility versus hubris

For media owners, success in media sales rarely comes by vehemently arguing they know their client’s business better than its assigned media agency.

More likely, traction comes from integration and collaboration – the understanding of a proprietor’s own audience, overlaid with an agency’s selected target audience.

Professing to have all the answers to a client’s challenge is assumptive at best, or arrogant and misguided at worst. It is incumbent on media owners to offer perspective, opinion and choice.

For example, by spanning a range of media platforms, Times Newspapers’ evolved digital ecosystem offers greater choice for both consumer and advertiser.

The role of each channel is additive and complementary. This applies to both the user experience and to potential advertising efficacy.

This channel diversification enables invaluable data opportunities. But “my data is better than yours” is a common refrain heard between owners, agencies and clients. To solve that problem, humility and critical thinking are required.

Discover truth with data

“Critical thinking” is defined as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising and/or evaluating information.

Adept, critique involves research, identifying biases, establishing inference, and determining relevance. These are human skills applied within immersive conversations, but technology can support with factual insight.

Nucleus is News UK’s approach to conceptualising the information we gather on our audiences. Nucleus is a next-generation, first-party data platform, connecting consented user data gathered across News UK’s websites, apps, radio stations, brands and CTV channels.

Nucleus offers the opportunity to discover audiences and insights, build targeted audience segments and measure campaigns in pioneering ways for the publishing space.
This insight can undoubtedly enrich sales conversations with evidence for behavioural change.

Invoke sympathy and empathy

However, it is incumbent on media owners to listen closely to what clients need from their data propositions. Empathetic, or even sympathetic, listening is required to ascertain how we can be of most use.

Sympathetic listening is implicit to meaningful debate and conversation. To be empathetic to another point of view, to welcome an opposing opinion and to encourage an open dialogue are all imperatives for progressive media strategies.

It could be argued that these imperatives have been marginalised due to virtual meetings, and within wider society in general due to the pervasive and corrosive “cancel” culture phenomenon.

The latest innovation from News UK, Talk TV launched recently creating a major new channel, available to everyone across the UK and delivering a bold new voice in current affairs, debate and opinion.

Piers Morgan, delivers a primetime show which is a fearless forum for lively debate and agenda-setting interviews. In his first show’s opening address, he opined on what he believed to be a detrimental decline in informed discussion and conversation.

His show, and the channel itself, is a return to conversation, a return to the dialectic, and an admirable search for the truth. Irrespective of one’s opinion of the personalities involved, it is a laudable ambition.

Sixty-four million global views for the first week of Piers’ “Uncensored” content is perhaps a vindication and validation of this ambition.

Ditch the dogma

Media planning, media buying and media sales can derive learnings from this shift in perspective.

Let us return to conversation, informed and enriched by data, rather than conversations led by dogma and a lack of intellectual humility.

Albrecht described this rule of conversation as “conditionals” – ways of gently expressing our views, opinions and perspectives with specific acknowledgement that others have the right to see things differently.

“I’m not completely certain, but I think…” subtly conveys that you respect the other person’s right to a different viewpoint, and signals that you’ll treat their ideas with respect, even if you disagree.

This approach, combined with basic semiotics – ensuring that intended meanings of a piece of communication are unambiguously understood by recipients – may well lead to mutually beneficial outcomes for owner, agency and client.