Mind your language: why words can make or break connections

27 April 2015, Blog

Recent high profile stories have once again highlighted the importance of using the right language when it comes to highly sensitive issues.

The tragedy of the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz who crashed Flight 9525 into the French Alps put the issue of depression into the spotlight last month. The stigmatising and fear-mongering media reports quickly followed, often with seemingly little regard to the facts around a condition which is experienced by more than one in five adults in the UK. The response on social media from mental health charities and people with depression highlighted an area that is so important for communicators to get right.

More recently, a large list of A-listers took to social media to criticise Katie Hopkins and The Sun newspaper for her column on migration in the wake of the recent Mediterranean disaster which has killed hundreds of people. Such tactics clearly generate noise, but they will do little for the authenticity of your argument and image.

As communicators, we work every day to ensure that the language we use is appropriate to the audience and situation.

Sensitivity needs to be channelled into everything we do, whether we are giving key messages to colleagues, writing a statement or tweeting on an important issue.

Our role has always been to use language in a way that accurately reflects a situation and builds mutual understanding with the people we are looking to engage.

Using terms that no one will understand or agree with is not the answer. Sometimes it can be a simple tweak, for example saying someone has or lives with depression rather than ‘suffers from’ it. This avoids any implication that people with mental health conditions should be treated or viewed as victims.

Get it wrong on an issue like the catastrophe of Germanwings and people will be quick to criticise you on social media for your careless words. Such mistakes could alienate a huge number of people. Is that really a risk worth taking?

Sensitivity may not make for a shocking headline, but taking responsibility for the language we use around issues like mental health or migration builds understanding and connections between different groups.

And being remembered for the right reasons will help more in the long-run than the latest set of shock headlines.

By Caragh Jones, Consultant at JBP

JBP Staff Member

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