To get a real idea of what it is actually like to be a local councillor and politician, it is important to talk about how you can very quickly make life unnecessarily difficult for others and make yourself very unpopular too.
Believe it or not, making things personal as a campaigner, activist or politician whilst working in the community and in public, is probably one of the worst things we can ever do.
If you genuinely want to take responsibility on behalf of others, you will need to understand and also accept that people who disagree with you will often see you personally as the problem, rather than the quality of your arguments or the facts that you use to make your case.
Think about how you might feel if someone else has a platform to speak on. They might be saying things that you don’t agree with, or perhaps you know to be completely wrong.
It can make you feel angry. You might feel desperate to speak. Worse still, you might even feel that because they seem to be the one that people are listening to, that what you have to say yourself will actually be what everyone else sees as being wrong.
When that kind of feeling takes over – and I can assure you that it does for even the most confident public speakers and debaters you could think of – it is essential to keep your cool.
You should never resort to becoming angry and making what could be a knee-jerk response to what you are experiencing as if you were feeling a type of pain. Reacting like this will almost certainly look and feel like you are making your response about them – and by that I mean about them personally.
Being a good and effective politician is about allowing the strength and legitimacy of your arguments to win the day.
It might also help to understand that in most cases, those very same people who are upsetting you with what looks like ice-cold surety and confidence will be feeling exactly the same way as you do too!
Now that’s the easy bit. YES – THE EASY BIT!
Regrettably, that’s the proactive bit. The approach you need to learn and practice all of the time. Unfortunately the political environment often requires you to be responsive as well as proactive.
Many existing politicians do nothing other than make their arguments personal and about the person they are thinking or talking about. When you are their target, never making it personal can be the last thing that you want to do.
However, this is the time when seeing such behaviour for what it is can really help you most of all.
Other politicians make it personal when they aren’t in control of their arguments. They deflect questions when they don’t know they are doing. And when they have no idea how to solve a problem, how something works or they don’t have any idea what they should actually do, they use name calling and abuse as an attempt to make everyone think that they are at the top of their game.
When you are on the receiving end of rudeness and even angry or threatening behaviour, it becomes very difficult to respond in a positive, calm and generous way.
But with practice and patience, you will soon learn that arguments using you as the target, rather than what you do are never actually about you. They are about how somebody else is feeling about what they are doing, and you will soon learn to respond in a very professional and understanding way.
Sadly, politicians who have built their success by being good at attacking others personally will rarely learn to do politics another way.
That’s why it is so important that politicians and community representatives who can take and exercise their responsibility in a better way, can work through these challenges and see them for what they are. They will then be taken seriously and be respected for what they are trying to do for all.