Archive for the 'Language' Category


Almost as irritating as James Martin’s Asda campaign, furniture adverts which state a series of numbers instead of a proper British price. “It’s just eight nine nine!” enthuses some grinning moron.


It’s eight hundred and ninety-nine pounds.

Stop it.


The beginning

The walls were thin, to the point that they seemed to suck in and then relax when the door was opened and then closed behind her. The small room was fairly dark, lit by a window directly opposite, so that everything in the room appeared in shadow to her. A yellowing plant, long forgotten, sat dryly at one end of the windowsill.

The man was tall, athletic, probably in his early 50’s, though it was hard to tell. He was clean shaven with a full head of wavy brown hair. He smiled, muttered something about being with her in a minute, and then pivoted back to his computer screen. She unwound her scarf and shrugged off her winter coat. The room didn’t seem to have heating, but the pictures on the walls and the items on the shelves were somehow warming. Right ahead, a picture of something abstract but probably organic, in oranges and browns and reds. Then, just behind the man, a bowl, almost, but not quite spherical in green and grey. Scraps of curling, yellowing paper pinned to the wall around his desk, scribbled and sketched, the odd flash of purple paint, sepia, gold.

“Well, thank you so much for coming,” he said, smiling at her again “I’m really sorry about this, I’m just not sure what to do with her.”

“That’s okay.” She replied, settling down with a notebook and a pen. “Tell me the story.”

He kicked back in his office chair, clasped his hands behind his head, elbows out to the sides. “Well. Where to start? Yes. It all began last summer….”


Penelope Pitstop

Wacky-penelope-pitstopLet me introduce Penny. Penny is in a strategic, leadership position in a large organisation. She has a six-figure salary, 2 children and a husband in advertising earning similar to her. She is a study in anti-engagement. She’s truly fascinating, but for the wrong reasons! Her staff have no time for her, she has neither their respect nor their confidence. She’s defensive, takes things personally and blames her staff when things go wrong.

Having made the effort to ask somone about their holiday, yawning all the way through the answer and then telling them all about her trip to Australia over Christmas.

Explaining that she’d brought in a cake so that “people who didn’t get a drink bought for them because they weren’t at the Christmas meal can have a slice of cake instead.”

“I’ve brought these sweets that our nanny got for my kids for you lot because they’re not good enough quality for my children”

She doesn’t think its her job to make sure the people she manages are doing theirs – and she’s even said so in a meeting with her own staff!

How long will Penny survive? We’ll see…


Old School

I’ve just been looking back over my old blogposts. I joined WordPress in 2006 after my old blog over at 20six had wobbled along for 3 years and the wheels had come off.

What I’ve noiced is that the way we blog and what we blog about seem to have got a whole lot more sophisticated. Probably because technology allows us to upload cool pictures with ease, these days, but also because – I think – the people who stayed blogging are a different kind of person to the ones who gave up and just went to other social media outlets.

So, back in my old-school archives I come across as chatty, but I’m sharing things I’d never share anywhere else. I discuss my health and how I feel in much more detail than I’d ever do with a real, live person. It was cathartic to me at the time, and whilst I’m not dismissing this medium for that purpose, I think I’ve grown a bit since then.

What have I learned?

My biggest lessons are:

  1. shit happens to everyone, some people just cope better and/or more quietly with it than others
  2. you have to do what’s in your heart, and not pretend to be something or someone you’re not. Compromise on your principles and you’re on a slippery slope to pain and destruction.
  3. trying to see things from someone else’s point of view really helps your decision-making.
  4. Having said (3), remember that you can’t fix everyone’s problems, and sometimes, even if you try, you can’t stop them being unhappy. Because of that, sometimes the right thing to do is (kindly) walk away.
  5. Think positively, let the past go and move on to the next thing. Positive thinking keeps you alive (quite literally – Google some survival stories if you need convincing).
  6. People will judge you. Its human nature. Get over it.
  7. Dance. No-one told me when I was young and awkward that it was OK to get on the dance floor, even if you’d never had a dance lesson. Dancing is about feeling the music and expressing yourself in a way without words. It feels good, and most of all – no-one’s looking at you, not really. They’re wrapped up in their own social awkwardness, or they’re drunk.
  8. Go your own way. Don’t be a sheep – that’s how we get lamb chops.

I probably learned more than this, but that’s my top 8. What have you learned in the last 10 years?

Talking it through

Today I met with two completely seperate individuals who wanted to be able to talk through things that were concerning them. Alice is thinking about retiring, and Bill wants to start getting some control back from an ongoing health condition that is robbing him of his sleep and happiness. Although the topics were poles apart, they had a lot in common. Both had something intensely personal to consider, both wanted to share it confidentially with me as an objective but not entirely external facilitator. Both want change but are concerned about the route to take, the lurking dangers and the ‘right’ way to communicate the plan. I really do enjoy my job, and I think I do make a difference to people. A sensible, objective ear but someone who doesn’t judge, isn’t shocked and helps you to organise your thoughts in a practical way so solutions are created, not just speculated upon. We all need someone safe to talk to, don’t we?

The Truth is a Story

So, I mentioned earlier how the truth isn’t binary, even though we think that if you haven’t told the truth, then you’ve lied – and although we sort of accept that, we also know that it isn’t as cut-and-dried as that in reality.

For most people, if you witness an event, the facts of the event itself do not crystalise into your memory like data onto a computer disk. They seep into your memory via lots and lots of comparisons with other things you’ve experienced or have knowledge about (which we’ll discuss another day), but also they’re inextricably linked to your emotional responses to witnessing the event and the opinions you have of various occurrances or actions within that event. You absorb the event into your memory somehow (science doesn’t really explain how, and I’m not even going to speculate), but the point is, we don’t ourselves always know what “the truth” of that event was until we start to explain it to a third party. And when we explain, either by writing or talking or signing – we have to think about the event in a special way to be able to tell the story.

If we want our third party to really understand what it was that we saw, we have to do a lot of describing. We have to choose our words carefully to do it justice (more so than ever if we’re using English because there’s such a choice of vocabulary at our disposal), we have to set the scene properly so that when the loud noise (for example) broke the silence, our audience knows exactly how silent the silence before the event was, and how shattering the noise was. And we also need to tell you how the whatever-it-was felt to us, our theories, our speculation, our disbelief, our superlatives or indifference – all of that.

In thinking about how to describe something, and then perhaps getting some feedback on that description from others, the stoy of the truth is moulded and altered. Sometimes we know this is happening, and sometimes we don’t, but when we do, we probably think its because we’re getting better at explaining it, rather than that the story is changing. And in the subsequent re-tellings, we learn from our experiences of telling the story, so it gets modified and altered to make the story more accessible to the next person we tell. Eventually, the story we tell of the truth we saw with our own eyes, is still the truth; after all, we haven’t lied – but is it still the same as before?

Sometimes, particularly when I’m interviewing people about things they know they saw, we have to help them unpick the story that they tell and break it down to the bare factual bones of what they know versus what they assumed, thought, filled in the gaps for, inferred and imperceptibly made truth, that wasn’t. I’m not saying all that other stuff isn’t relevant, I’m just saying that the truth is more complicated than you first think. What’s revealing, is that the interviewee suddenly realises what they thought they knew as fact, might not be as perfect as they themselves believed…. and that is a bit frightening. It makes us feel vulnerable and uncertain and defensive – and that’s understandable. We like to think we know what we saw, but have we just remembered how to tell its story instead?


The Truth – an introduction

The truth is… I spend a lot of time interviewing people about specific events that have happened in the past, and also, events that are going to happen in the future (i.e. people starting new jobs). Over my fairly modest 16 years of doing this, I’ve developed a rich catalogue of observations covering many topics. But one of the most fascinating ones is this idea of “telling the truth”.

The truth, when you say it like that always sounds like a singular, perfect account – and the difference between truth and lie is binary, like flipping a switch : up = truth, down = lie. And yet even a small child knows this is not correct. There are always shades and grades of truth – how else then can we explain that several people witnessing the same event could describe it so differently and yet each be certain of their authority on a matter they witnessed with their own eyes?

I could talk at length, but I won’t right now – you’d only get bored, so I’m going to split my various thoughts into several posts over the next week or so. But the first topics to look at are how storytelling changes the truth and also how our own personal experiences and memories change how we tell the truth about something.

Speak again soon xx