Whilst a referendum offers the advantage of a clear-cut decision, it’s a crude instrument to use when dealing with the nuances of relationships, whether between countries or people
Simply put, a referendum is designed to produce a winner and a loser. And so what began as a clumsy effort to deal with British concerns about their relationship with Europe, soon descended into an ugly slugfest between two lumbering giants, each intent on beating the other into submission.
The adversarial nature of a simple majority vote leaves little room for anything other than triumphalist or defeatist talk when the outcome is announced, and voters from both camps and their supporters across Europe and further afield have continued in the same winners versus losers’ vein. The language coming from rejected Europe in particular is running along the lines of saying good riddance to Britain, whilst it seems many European politicians are now desperate to trigger the exit mechanism as quickly as possible, notwithstanding their previous support for a remain vote.
Now business is all about relationships, so a decision by the majority of British voters to leave the EU is likely to have left those companies buying and selling in the European market and beyond shocked at the outcome and deeply confused about the quality of the relationships which underpin the trade between their country and the UK.
Throw into the fray the likelihood that most British business owners voted to remain, and those feelings become even more mixed and uncertain. The British business owner, whether based in a part of the United Kingdom which voted to stay or go, is most probably feeling isolated and betrayed by the decision of a majority of voters to cut ties with Britain’s main trading partners in this way. Whilst democracy is rightly prized, it can be very difficult to swallow a democratic decision that feels like more of a knee-jerk reaction to the posturing of one lumbering giant over another, and in turn threatens the viability of business.
The danger for us all as we scramble to avoid being crushed under the feet of the warring giants, is that we see ourselves as helpless small fry and take our eyes off the important relationships between people, which underpin the trade between Britain and its trading partners. Rather than scurrying for cover, these relationships demand that we stand tall and extend the hand of friendship to our beleaguered colleagues in Britain.
Whilst none of us knows what the future holds, we can recommit to the relationships with these individual trading partners, and remind them that whilst we share their dismay at Britain’s decision to leave, they are not alone. Pay them a visit, call them on the phone, write them an email. Do it now. Business is personal, and these individual gestures of solidarity and support, however we make them, will go a long way towards ensuring that these vital relationships persist to our mutual benefit long after the wrangling over the whys and the hows and the wherefores of Britain’s exit are played out.