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Mind your language!

Sam MacBeth

The climate of fear for British MP's seemed to rise to new levels last week - with one BBC reporter stating that the emerging stories of sexual harassment would be bigger than the expenses scandal of a few years ago.

Labour MP Clive Lewis is now being investigated after a formal complaint was made against him. Mr. Lewis said, "I don't as a rule at packed Labour party conferences grope people's bottoms when I greet them."*

On the face of it, the comment may sound like a reasonable retort. However, if you deconstruct the qualifying words (or signals, as we at Scotwork call them) in the quote with an alternative inserted - it could ready quite differently -

  • I don't (I know somebody else who might)
  • as a rule (but possibly if it was unwritten)
  • at packed (less than half full might be OK)
  • Labour party (other parties could be acceptable)
  • conferences (possibly at different functions)
  • grope (?)
  • people's bottoms (maybe other parts of the anatomy)
  • when I greet them (I might wait for 30 minutes)

Now I am in no way suggesting any impropriety on Mr. Lewis' part. The plain fact is that when there is a charged atmosphere, and we're under pressure, our use of language is going to be scrutinised very closely. Unfortunately, any potential signals of flexibility in this type of situation - no matter how innocuous, could fuel the fans of suspicion.

When you negotiate on any subject, if it is within an adversarial, tense or competitive environment - take your time and deliver your message as clearly and succinctly as possible, failure to do so may mean that the message which is received is different from the one that was sent - potentially increasing mistrust and suspicion. Not something that is generally to be advised when building long term deals.

*Taken from the BBC New Website 4/11/2017 

Sam MacBeth
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