Spell it Out!

Published: Nov 25 , 2011
Author: Alan Smith

Many of us will have heard of, and indeed donated regularly to the swear box. Indeed any attempt to keep swearing in public under control should be applauded.

Peculiar then that a judge this week upheld an appeal overturning Denzel Cassius Harvey's conviction for repeatedly using the F word at police officers, Mr Justice Bean said officers were so regularly on the receiving end of the "rather commonplace" expletive that it was unlikely to cause them "harassment, alarm or distress".

Even stranger then that this flew in the face of a conviction in the previous week of a farmer in Wigton, Cumbria. Keith Culthard was fined £200 for erecting a sign that attempted to dissuade ramblers from crossing his field. Rather than the normal "Keep out!" Culthard added a more direct message. His "Do not enter. F@&* off!" was regarded as vulgar and blunt. On balance I think that is a fair summation.

Forget for a second the ridiculous nature of the legal profession which can suggest that aggressively swearing at a policeman is not as bad as erecting a sign in a remote field. Two lessons glare out to me as a negotiating training specialist.

The first is that we should never react to aggressive or bad behaviour by rewarding it. Removing the conviction can be seen as a carte blanche to swear with impunity at the Police as they go about their jobs. Adding concessions during a negotiation when put under pressure can be seen in a similar light. Never respond to deliberately confrontational behaviour, or guess what. They will do it again.

The second is a little more oblique. As trained negotiators we see a lack of clarity as a real issue, which can engender confusion and dramatically reduce time efficiency. A request for a specific proposal to be addressed at the very least gives the other side the chance to think about how it could be met, and under which terms they could live with it.

Surrounding your information however with inflammatory language or behaviour will be self-defeating. Much as Mr Culthard literally found out to his cost.

Alan Smith


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