11 March 2015

Telling it straight

Coffee shop sign: simple and clear

At an awards ceremony last month, architect Ken Shuttleworth took the chance to get some strongly held views off his chest when he called his fellows in the profession 'arrogant' and 'egotistical' amongst some other choice descriptors.

Just a week or so ago in a speech described as 'unusually blunt' in The Times, the chief executive of Network Rail damned the rail system he oversees as looking like a scrap heap. He went on to talk about major issues with the culture of the organisation he heads up, and his programme for change.

Different sectors, different topics, one a pointed critique while the other more of a metaphorical hands up, but both interventions making headlines because someone has shot from the hip in a way we have come to find unexpected for people in the public eye.

Can it be right for this sort of approach to be so surprising, when the responses to these stories confirm what we know instinctively - people like hearing a straight view? It's refreshing and it leaves us in no doubt as to the speaker's sincerity.

Too often - perhaps in the next few weeks leading to the election, even more than usual - comments made by our leaders and public figures are nuanced and filtered to remove any potential for offence or banana skins. But the result is we have to tilt our heads and screw up our eyes, listening hard to fathom the real meaning behind the words.

While throwing around abuse Shuttleworth-style maybe a heavy handed way to get your message across, to start a conversation about what needs to change, there is something to be said for keeping it simple, telling it how it is, clearly, without window dressing. Good communication should not be about obscuring what we really mean, rather, the opposite. And done well, being direct does not have to be insulting.