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Friday, December 21, 2012

Bmag Dec 18th 2012 - Let's talk!

The greatest lesson I have learned in 2012, and one which I now hope to pass on to anyone who will listen, is the importance of talking things out. Radio station 4BC had a great line in its recent TV advertising campaign: “Talk is cheap but it can free your mind. It can start a war. Talk can end a war”. It’s so true. I want to tell you a story that goes back to a bmag column in July. The story ends a week ago, with me and a bloke called Brian having a good old laugh in the coffee shop which is situated directly underneath my radio studio at South Bank.

On 10 July, I suggested a possible compromise and way forward on the issue of same-sex marriage. I wrote: “We need two different types of marriage, to be known as a Church Marriage and a Civil Marriage. A Church Marriage would remain between a man and a woman – unless religious leaders one day decided otherwise. A Civil Marriage would include same-sex couples.” That column generated more feedback than any other I have written, but one email stood out. Among those disagreeing with me was Tony Salacich who wrote: “I’d like to meet and talk for an hour about the issue.” He went on to say: “My attempts at writing to [writers of ] other newspaper articles were either poorly received or misunderstood.” And so I agreed. It was the first time I’d ever sat down with a stranger (albeit a bmag reader who felt he knew me) to discuss a difference of opinions.

And it was great. We talked for just over an hour and I came to understand why Tony, a former high school chaplain, was so protective of the institution of marriage. I’m not going to elaborate here because it involves other people in Tony’s life, but it’s fair to say we both walked away with a greater appreciation of each others’ views.

So inspired was I by Tony’s enthusiasm for sitting down over a cup of coffee that I then invited another bmag reader, who had also disagreed with my same-sex marriage compromise, to do the same. I guess she thought I was being provocative, for she replied: “Thank you Spencer but I think I’ll give it a miss. I’m just hoping that some of what you write is just a job to you and you yourself are a moral and courageous man.”

Fast-forward to earlier this month and a Twitter user by the name of @GuruatLarge decided to let fly at me one night, saying (among other things): “You ruined my radio station with your knob (sic) ego.” Again I channelled bmag reader Tony Salacich with my response: “Come and have a coffee and we can chat about this.” Well blow me down if he didn’t say yes! So just last week, @GuruatLarge (real name Brian King) and I spent a good 45 minutes thrashing out our differences! Except, it wasn’t really like that.

We probably spent 10 minutes discussing Brian’s concerns – worthwhile reminders for me about what listeners want and need from a radio station – and then we just connected as blokes and shot the breeze. Turns out Brian’s a musician whose band has been trialling an unusual new recording technique – he’s going to send me one of his songs to play on 612 ABC Breakfast – and we both have a fascination with a phone app that lets you identify aircraft. We finished with Brian taking a “selfy” photo of the two of us, which he later tweeted with the message: “Had a great time talking radio with @SpencerHowson this morning. Great bloke to talk to.”

 What Tony and Brian both taught me is that we should take the time to talk – and, more importantly, listen. How many times have you complained about something and felt your concerns weren’t even heard? So if, like me, you’re in a position that involves customer contact and the odd complaint, see if you can’t take a moment to understand where they’re coming from. Often that’s all any of us want – to be heard. And so we come to the end of my second year writing for bmag. Thank you for reading and engaging. It’s a real thrill for me to have this exchange of ideas every fortnight. Keep the emails coming. May I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

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