Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
When lawyers are interviewed by journalists it invariably goes horribly wrong. Which seems strange since both professions love language and see expression and nuance as core skills.
But legal language shoots you in the foot when it’s reported by the media, as coverage of "Hey Dad” star Robert Hughes’ trial shows all too graphically.
Take this lead para splashed across today’s papers “Robert Hughes … never paraded naked around the pool at neighbourhood barbecues or wore a sarong like a mini-skirt”.
What do you see, think and feel when you read that?
Because people translate words into pictures, chances are you, and most of us, are seeing a naked man ‘parading’ around a swimming pool.
It’s not pretty and it wouldn’t be doing him any favours in the court of public opinion.
Sadly lawyers are trained to define the world in terms of what it isn’t. And that doesn't remove obstacles from the path of clear communication .
In fact you’ve probably read those last lines twice to be sure about what I mean, because while one negative is nasty, two negatives are quantumly worse.
So what can you learn from lawyers' convoluted conversation?
1. Visual language leads to extraordinarily powerful communication, but you have to paint the right pictures.
2. Say what it is, not what it’s not.
3. “Don’t mention the War” – just because a journalist brings it up doesn’t mean you have to go there. And whatever you do, don’t go there first by blurting it out.