26 September 2019

House of Commons - Paula Sherriff - language in leadershipJust how much of an impact do your words have on those around you?

I ask this in light of yesterday’s events in the House of Commons. Labour MP Paula Sherriff emotionally called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson and fellow MPs to moderate the language they use in the House.

The request specifically referenced the use of war-like terms. These include: The Surrender Act, traitor and betrayal. All of which Sherriff suggested directly impacts the general public.

She said: “We should not resort to using offensive, dangerous or inflammatory language for legislation that we do not like, and we stand here under the shield of our departed friend with many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day.”

Despite loud agreement to Sherriff’s comments from many in the House, Johnson dismissed this as “humbug”. Do you agree?

The power of our words

Studies show that time and again that people in authority have huge control and influence over others. When we see someone who we class as an authority, a leader, behave in a certain way, that validates the behaviour for us to emulate. I see it time and again in business, for example. If a team leader is often late into the office, the team are more likely to also be late often. If a manager dresses more casually, in general so will the team.

Our Parliament has the decision-making power in the country, do these MPs also have the power to impact behaviour too? What message does it send to an angry population if our leaders are shouting at each other, calling one another traitors and so on?

It’s quite right that the media this morning are all covering the language question. However, some media outlets are the worst offenders here. I noted the Daily Mail coverage of Lady Hale’s Supreme Court announcement. Rather than describing the esteemed judge as the first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission or second to be appointed to the Court of Appeal, or the President of the Supreme Court, the paper described her as ‘Ex-barmaid with a spider brooch’. Astonishing.

The words we use, especially when in a position of authority or leadership have an extraordinary power to influence those around us.

It’s worth noting that the most important quality of great leaders is the ability to listen and make people feel heard. It would be fair to say that our countries leaders need to bear that in mind during these Brexit negotiations.

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