The difference between passion and aggression

This weekend Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel, the managers of Totenham Hotspur and Chelsea respectively clashed on a touchline during the London derby between the two teams. 

By Richard Stone
This has sparked some debate about whether their behaviour sets the right example. For instance, does it create a negative spiral that will find its way onto the pitch, into grassroots sport and onto the playground? 

There has also been a discussion about whether this kind of, euphemistically named, ‘passion’ is an essential part of football and actually good for the game. 
I’ve never played sport at any kind of high level. In fact, the highlights of my sporting career have been quite a slow London Marathon in 1998, a sponsored swim for Mencap and hurting myself playing five a side in innumerable ways. I am the opposite of an expert in elite sports psychology.  

However, as part of the leadership team at Stone Junction, I’ve recently been taught a valuable lesson by one of my colleagues, which does translate into sport. We were discussing a forthcoming engineering PR and marketing campaign and I said that it needed to be packed with aggression. 

I even said we should, ‘go to the mattresses’, referencing the movie The Godfather and TV show, The Sopranos; meaning we should prepare for war. 
My colleague, very rationally, pointed out that aggression would be entirely needless and that what we really needed was energy, and enthusiasm. 

And she was wholly right. I can’t think of a point in my career in which aggression has ever been needed. Daring, bravery, calmness, enthusiasm, excitement and a million other emotions and behaviours have been essential but conduct of the sort we saw in the Premier League this weekend hasn’t. 

Jacinda Ardern, who has led New Zealand admirably over the last five years, once responded to critics who felt she needed to ‘go to the mattresses’ more often.  

“One of the criticisms I've faced over the years is that I'm not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I'm empathetic, it means I'm weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong,” explained Ardern. 

Like Sarina Wiegman, who recently led the England football team to triumph at the 2022 Euros, Ardern is able to conduct herself publicly without resorting to headbutting her opponents or having to be separated from them. 

Her story is another example of why aggression can stay in The Godfather and why Tuchel and Conte are likely to be superseded by more effective leaders, like Wiegman and Ardern, over time — unless they change their ways. 

I, for one, am grateful for the lesson. Conflict may be the foundation of news, but aggression isn’t useful in PR.

About the author

Richard Stone
Richard Stone - CHART.PR, MCIPR

Stone Junction is managed by Richard Stone, a chartered member of the CIPR whose previous experience includes campaigns for Arup, AIT Plc, CIENA, Parker Hannifin, Schneider Electric, SIG, SKF, Roche and WorldCom.

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