Attention! Attention! We’d like to alert you to an epidemic. We believe it’s sweeping through universities, businesses, hospitals and even schools.
We think we even detected it this morning, whilst listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.
And what’s particularly worrying is it even seems to affect those who should be the least susceptible, the very people who should be immune.
What is this shocking condition?
Quite simply, it’s called “not speaking human”.
Presenter Sarah Montague was talking to “behaviour tsar” Tom Bennett, author of a new report, Creating a Culture – how schools can optimise behaviour. (“Optimise behaviour”?! But let’s move on…)
Have a listen to the interview and note the contrast between his language and the presenter’s. Several times she picks up on what he’s said in far more down-to-earth terms.
Montague: What constitutes bad behaviour?
Bennett: I think it’s really important for us to split behaviour into two categories….good behaviour, for example, means the absence of bad behaviour…you want also to be inculcating in children great habits, great learning habits…
Montague: So we’re not just talking about stopping people punching someone?
The presenter has added what journalists call “colour” by creating a real example through a “word picture”. Instead of speaking in generalisations, she’s used an image we can all recognise.
Why? Because Montague and her fellow presenters are acutely aware that listeners are probably doing something else while they’re tuning in – driving to the office, making the kids’ packed lunches, washing up the breakfast things. They might be nurses, plumbers, airline stewards, software engineers and yes, some will be teachers. But most don’t have time to work out what “inculcating in children great habits” means.
(If someone asked a parent, “Why are you getting little Freddie to make his bed each morning?”, would that parent reply, “I’m inculcating in him a great habit”?!)
Bennett continued talking about a “close attention to detail when it came to things like routines…a strong culture which had been communicated…consensus about how they could work together”.
Note how this is very much “general speak”. No surprise then that Montague responds with: “Can you give us an example?”
She’s all for drilling down to talk about one school – this demonstrates what we teach in our training: to make a general point, it’s usually much better to focus on a single point. So if you produce a medicine, don’t talk about how it benefits many patients, describe how it has improved the life of one. If you make electric cars, don’t go on about how lots of motorists’ lives will benefit, show us how one typical owner can save money and benefit the environment.
Instead, in this interview we had this:
“Supportive cultures”, “strategies were often very context dependent” and even “exceptions to rules must be exceptional”, as well as “there is no mandatory certification of training processes”.
(Tellingly, the most “human” part of the interview came at the end when Bennett was talking about previously working as a bouncer!)
I’m not questioning his expertise in education, professionalism or the value of his report, but if you want to convey important points, you need to use everyday language, not the language of academic research.
That’s a lesson we should all apply in the office, surgery, and broadcast studio.
And in the classroom.