A few weeks ago I saw Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland from between 1997 – 2011, speak in Adelaide. I can confidently say she is one of the most inspiring, powerful and visionary leaders and advocates of peace, justice and reconciliation I have ever had the privilege to see and listen to in person.
One of the big lessons I learned from listening to her was her strategy in ensuring lasting and real peace and reconciliation in Ireland and with the UK. The lesson was this – if you really want to reconcile your differences and want to establish real peace, then you must be open-minded and take the time to get to know the other party on a personal level before you even start talking about the hard stuff. If you meet them and immediately start talking about the difficult topics or the ones you think you may disagree on, then a relationship breakdown is more likely to happen and be even more ingrained and you will both walk away thinking that there won’t be a chance in the world you’ll ever agree or settle, amongst other things!
However if you first sit down with the other person and get to know them personally and find out what you’ve got in common, for example – asking them about their family, their interests, and what they like to do in their spare time, you are more likely to find out what you both have in common and you’ve established a base foundation for a potential friendship which allows you to more comfortably move onto the harder issues.
I believe that this is applicable not just in international relations, but in all relationships whether they be work, friendship or romantic where the intention is to build strong long-term, lasting relationships. The key however is to ensure that you don’t become too focussed in the small things that you lose sight of the bigger picture or forget to tackle the more complex and conflicting issues at stake.
When building relationships remember: start with the small things, and the rest will follow.