It’s a good idea to take off your goggles every now and then

[Image courtesy of frankieleon at Flickr Creative Commons]

Last week, on the day that Article 50 was finally invoked, I left the country.

The timing was entirely coincidental, of course, as I’d booked my holiday well before the fateful date of 29 March was made public.

As I made my way through the airport, my eye was caught by the wildly differing newspaper headlines.

FREEDOM! shouted the Daily Mail. Dover & out, punned the Sun as it ‘beamed a message’ from the famous white cliffs to the continent.

The Guardian, however, was not amused. Today Britain steps into the unknown, it warned, against the backdrop of an EU jigsaw puzzle with a gaping hole where Britain should have been.

The Express talked of ‘Theresa May’s no-nonsense message to Brussels’, while the The Independent mentioned the ‘nightmare’ of a hard Brexit.

The Star, meanwhile, had slightly different priorities, with Arise Sir Becks (David gets a knighthood) and Mel B’s three in bed romps (still just as spicy after all these years, apparently) taking pride of place on its garish front page.

I didn’t buy any of them, but decided to return my attention to The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood that’s recently seen a uptick in popularity thanks to the misogynistic sorties of The Donald. (Highly recommended, by the way, and headed for an 8 out of 10 at my upcoming book club.)

As the plane climbed high, I gazed out the window and began to think about the stories we tell ourselves – about ourselves and others. Fresh from my foray into cognitive behavioural therapy, I wondered whether we ever really understand what’s going on in anybody’s head, our own included.

He said, she said

The interesting thing about Brexit and Article 50 is how polarising it’s all become – just like the Trump presidency, in fact. People on both sides passionately defend their point of view, and believe that right is on their side with a sort of religious zeal.

As the plane descended over the Alps and lined up to land at Nice airport, my thoughts returned to earth too. What would the French make of it all, I wondered. Would their newspaper headlines be as provocative?

A glance at the front pages in the arrivals hall made me realise that point of view is just as important as the story you tell. 

Le Figaro did have a front-page photo of Theresa May with a small caption about Brexit. But the main headline was about doubts over the economic policy of presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron.

For many other papers, it was news, but not the news, relegated to second place by French politics, gossip and sport. 

Libération, on the other hand, had a full-page photo of a red-jacketed foot guard, with Vous nous manquez déjà (we’re already missing you) printed on his bearskin. Inside, they had two possible visions of a British future: one bright and optimistic, the other dark and menacing.

No prizes for guessing which one they thought was the more probable. 

La vie en rose

As I chatted to French people on holiday, I quickly realised that Brexit is a side-show for them.

They see it through the prism of the age-old rivalry between Britain (or more exactly, England) and France, the legacy of World War Two and a fundamentally different relationship between the people and those in power. Plus the latest scandal involving François Fillon’s wife and who’s made it through to the next round of The Voice.

The point of all of this is simple: point of view. Yours, theirs, and the overlap between.

When you’re communicating with clients and prospects, it’s vital to take off your goggles and put on theirs. It doesn’t matter what you mean; it’s what they understand. It doesn’t matter what you write; it’s what they read.

If you can step outside your world, and step into theirs, you can see how to get through to them. So Trump could be a standout president, and just what the country needs. Brexit could be a huge success and mark the beginning of a new era.

And your latest genius marketing campaign might not be quite as attractive as you’d previously thought.

(D)over and out.