Your language is revealing

| Linda Hutchinson

The meeting was in a community space, the topic was people and families in the local area who are known to many different organisations, the initiative was billed as ‘person focused’. Yet within minutes it was clear this was ‘service focused’. And it as not just the statutory sector giving this impression, it was community and voluntary sector people too.

I’ve become used to this strange juxtaposition. Despite genuinely wanting to be seen as person focused, people find they cannot change their language. It is hard to let go of the service speak and the familiar words that play well in our own organisations or professional group. We have learnt the words to use to gain qualifications, to succeed in a professional space, to meet expectations of our peers and seniors. So letting go of these is not easy.

A previous article looked at this, in the sense of the liminal space, the place between the professional world and the real life one. It made the point that it is not enough to translate professional language into simpler, easier to understand words. It is about finding the place between both.

Maybe it is also about finding the will to not want to proclaim your right to be in the professional space. Talking about delivering services, providing support, hard to reach, engagement, activation, enabling, giving information and a multitude of others gives a sense of ‘me powerful, you weak’. Opening up by using everyday words implies we are, well, just like you. It means exposing our own vulnerabilities, our own need for support now or in the future. It means saying we are all people with different experiences and perspectives and all are valid, mine do not trump yours.

Over 70 years ago, George Orwell wrote “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought” (Politics and the English Language, 1946). He was writing about language used by politicians – something that feels very pertinent in present day. But in any situation, the point remains that language has an effect on our ability to think.

Being talked down to means you will feel subservient. Being unable to fathom out what the hell people are talking about as it is full of acronyms and jargon says loud and clear that I am not meant to be part of this conversation.

If we are genuine about wanting to coproduce and work with people and patients at the centre of our thinking, then we must show this by choosing our words carefully.

Photo by Alexandra

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