Why Language Matters

About 25 years ago the National Charity I worked with was approached to take over a smaller non profit that had run into difficulties.  I was tasked with overseeing the integration and hoped for turn around in the business. I duly went and immersed with them plus a small hand picked team (shout out to Tucker, Martin & Fuggle) for 6 months.  

During the scanning phase (Scan-Focus-Act Model) we learnt about the crisis response team that was in place to respond to challenging behaviors in the residential & day service settings.  The crisis response team was referred to as the ‘H.I.T Squad’ with the H.I.T standing for ‘Holistic Intervention Team’.  The joke was, given the ‘Hippy Culture’ nature of the company, that whilst one staff person restrained you the other realigned your Chakras or gave your Aura a massage.  Funny as we thought this was,  it really was not as the parlance of ‘HIT’ can and did cause distress and concern for individuals and others served by the agency.

What we call things and how we call things matters.  Many organizations have evolved a crisis response system and policy based upon language that may at least cause distress, think “This is a CODE RED alert, all available please respond to Unit 12”…. or in some cases trauma, think “Calling Dr Strong, please respond to Ward 13” or words to that effect.  The choice of language and the nature of how it is used seems to almost set an inevitability that physical intervention is imminent in whatever form that might be. 

In the Mandt System we recognize and understand that organizations need to address and manage conflict in the workplace.  A good segment of our training focus is on conflict resolution techniques and creating a positive behavior support culture.  So, our guidance to consider is to reflect on the language we use and the inferred action than can or will be enacted as a result.  What the HIT squad idea got right was the ‘Holistic’ component, it was the term HIT that was problematic with its association to violence.

Think about terms such as ‘Care or Safe’,  i.e, ‘Calling Dr Care or Nurse Safety’, or ‘Positive Response Code Requested to Unit 12’.  Other words or terms can be used as appropriate to the setting and environment as well as informed by the unique needs and circumstances of the individuals served.  Remember language matters and that is why I still recall the ‘HIT Squad’ name from 25 years ago and am writing this blog today.

Simon Kemp –  CEO

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