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(Empty) words can never hurt me

By Stephen Sutcliffe, Director of Finance & Accounting

Stephen SutcliffeStephen shoes

I am, it must be admitted, a man of A Certain Age. The sort of age which requires several different pairs of spectacles. The age at which brightly coloured shoes seem like a good idea (check out the blue pair). And the sort of age where Ant and Dec winning the TV awards for the 18th year running seems....well, baffling.


In my day (people of A Certain Age say that a lot) TV presenters had more oomph. One of the pioneers in the field was Barbara Walters. A journalist by background, she became the first ever female anchor of a national news programme, at a time when women in broadcasting were often known as "tea pourers". Always controversial, her interviews with Fidel Castro, Boris Yeltsin and Monica Lewinsky were emulated and parodied in equal measure.

One of Ms Walters' techniques was using simple and direct language to ask unusual questions. Sometimes she came unstuck (as when she asked Katherine Hepburn what sort of tree she'd like to be). But at other times, this approach gave her (and hence us) an unexpected insight into an interviewee's personality. One of her favourite phrases was "A great many people think that polysyllables are a sign of intelligence."

Which got me thinking. We all know words have power. Phrases like "I love you" or "I'm sorry" can alter the course of history.

What, then, about the words we use at work?  Where is their power?

Sitting in a meeting recently, I heard the following:

Disruptive. Strategise. Visioning. Freemium. Pain points. Transformative.

There were probably more, but I'd gone back to admiring my blue shoes.

The point is: we are living in a time of unprecedented change. We are conquering diseases. We are feeding more people, with less.  We are, arguably, more peaceful and more prosperous than ever before*.

Work is the powerhouse of this. So why is the language surrounding it so opaque and uninspiring?

Einstein famously said: "If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough."  If that's true, the implications are, quite frankly, terrifying.

So, my (rather belated) new year's resolution is this:  to watch my language - at work, anyway! To keep it simple, human and direct. And I'd like your help.  As customers of NHS SBS, we send you lots of stuff.  Things like this newsletter. Notes about your service. Advance warning of deadlines.  Hopefully you read most of it, but we rarely get any feedback. 

So, talk to us. 

Don't understand a phrase that we've used? Tell us! Think we could have used three words when we used 30? Tell us!  And, because it's nice to be appreciated sometimes, if you think we've phrased something just right, or it makes perfect sense - tell us that, too.

We are a genuinely nice bunch of people, and we will do our very best to communicate with you in a way that makes sense and makes your life easier. And those, I promise, are not just empty words.

As ever, I'm tweetable @sasutty, and emailable by clicking here.

*if you don't believe me, read "The Rational Optimist" by Matt Ridley. Thought-provoking stuff.

To read more about Stephen's career story, visit https://www.futurefocusedfinance.nhs.uk/blog/better-beer-career-nhs

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