Communication Works

On Wednesday, 10 March, I awoke to Radio New Zealand National's Morning Report and broadcaster, Geoff Robinson, introducing a story about the tremendous bravery of Rifleman James McKie, a New Zealander, serving in the British army.

Rifleman McKie, 29, had been engaged with his platoon in a firefight in Afghanistan's Helmand province, when a live Taleban grenade landed centimetres from him and two other British soliders. He had the presence of mind to pick it up and hurl it away from his comrades with the result that he saved both his own life, and that of his fellow soldiers.

Now, my thoughts on war, the Iraq war, and this war in particular could take up a lot of blog space.  However, ‘the war on terror' aside, what did strike me as I listened to Rifleman McKie's account of this dramatic episode was that the war (and my war, in particular) on the misuse of the reflexive pronoun was looking increasingly unwinnable.

Setting the context for listeners, McKie began his account with the following statement: "Myself and two others climbed onto a small building with a high roof...." The rest of the story is a testament to both McKie's bravery and the attendant understatement that accompanies all truly courageous people: the belief that there is nothing remarkable about their actions.

But let's not be picky, under the circumstances, we can certainly forgive Rifleman McKie for a lapse in grammar.  However, the standard grammatical construction "Two others and I climbed onto a small building ..." rather than ‘myself and two others' is not only easier on the ear, it conforms to the logic of established usage and etiquette of placing oneself after the other subjects in a sentence.  

Unfortunately,  it seems increasingly common for the use of  the  reflexive pronoun (myself, yourself/yourselves) to be used when paradoxically, all that is required to communicate succinctly is the subject pronoun ‘I' or ‘you'. Perhaps this change in usage arises from the speaker's belief that the reflexive pronoun is somehow more correct, and carries greater authority or emphasis?  At Communication Works, we promote accuracy as means of establishing your professional credibility, so why don't you check out the Hot Tips section on our website for more on the correct usage of reflexive pronouns, yourself!


Written by Desiree Williamson


When UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was in the news last year over a letter of condolence he'd written to a bereaved mother, I was reminded of some of the effects of poorly edited writing.  The mother, in a 9 November article in The Sun newspaper  had complained of Brown's "more than 20 mistakes" in a letter she had received from the Prime Minister after the death of her son, a soldier in Iraq.  She was distressed and offended by the letter's errors, and the well-intentioned Mr Brown endured public criticism for his "blundering" and "disrespect".  In the newspaper article, the mother urged the Prime Minister to "get someone to check" future letters to bereaved families.

 We all make mistakes in our writing, and at Communication Works we always recommend that you either edit your document meticulously yourself OR employ the services of an experienced copy-editor. (Before you see this blog entry, skilled writers will have looked over it for me.)

 Mr Brown's experience shows some of the consequences of unedited writing: hurt to the reader, embarrassment and possible career damage to the writer.  Another consequence can be that the author's intended message is missed or misinterpreted.  At the very least, a reader may feel irritation at the effort required to extract the writer's meaning, and be left with an impression that the writer regards the reader's time as less important than theirs.  If writers respect the reader they will take the time to ensure that the reader has a smooth reading experience.

 In addition, errors can lead to a loss of confidence in the writer.  If an engineer's report contains inappropriate punctuation, then has the writer also been careless with his/her calculations?  If a lawyer uses an inappropriate word, does he/she have sufficient insight to understand all the consequences of the words used in a new law?

 When we write, we know the messages we want to get across, and we can be blind to our not having clearly conveyed those ideas.  Fresh eyes are therefore invaluable: they can show us where we haven't sufficiently explained ourselves; they can notice errors that we have missed.   So, ask your colleagues to check your writing before you put it out there.  Better still, leave your colleagues to concentrate on the profession they've trained for and engage a copy-editor from Communication Works !


Written by Janet Bray



LETTERMAN did and RODNEY did; why you should say SORRY when you stuff up!

As communication professionals we are always aware of the many and varied ways in which ‘perception' contributes to the way in which one's message is received. Yes, you‘ve heard it before, but it's still true: perception is everything. So recently we (like you) were more than a little surprised to learn that Mr Walk the Talk Rodney Hide (Minister for Local Government) turned out to be "not a martyr" and not averse to taking his girlfriend on a tax-payer funded, fact finding mission to the UK and North America.

Had Rodney lost his head in the Rumba? Had he gone completely Cha-Cha-Cha? Actually, Rodney hadn't even broken the rules surrounding MPs' travel perks; technically speaking he was entitled to make his claim for a 90 percent fare discount.

So ... why the tangled Tango? In a word, congruence! Rodney's actions didn't match his rhetoric, and as a result he suffered a major loss of credibility which threatened to infect both his party and the government. In other words, he now faced a crisis communication situation where his response would either further erode his image, or as a best case scenario, contain the damage.

Luckily for Rodney, he either understands how to put out a fire or he's getting good advice. Communication theorists who study crisis communication have documented and critiqued a range of image restoration strategies which are employed when a high profile individual's behaviour is challenged or attacked. In our increasingly mediated digital world, the management of image for high profile individuals in politics, the news media and business, not to mention the organisations which these individuals represent, has become one of the hottest research areas.

William Benoit's (1995) theory of image restoration discourse, suggests that by taking corrective action and expressing ‘mortification' (i.e. I stuffed up and I am so sorry) the accused,  demonstrates that he/she acknowledges the wrong doing, says sorry for the effects, and does whatever it takes to make it right. As a result, the damage to one's reputation is stalled, and there is even a chance one's reputation may be enhanced or improved.

Rodney, unlike so many others who ‘stuff-up', got this right. He acknowledged that he had "got carried away by being a minister". More importantly, he apologised and paid back the money. It's difficult to bag someone who appears genuine about the mistake. If only more politicians, public and business leaders would realise that when a mistake is made (inadvertently or deliberately), in order to retain their credibility and restore the image and reputation of their organisation, they need to follow these steps: admit it, apologise for it and make it right!

 Written by Desiree Williamson




Earlier in the year, I booked a two bedroom unit at The Bolton Hotel in Wellington.  I was en route, with friends, to Martinborough and decided to overnight in the Capital.  On arrival at the hotel, we were upgraded to one of the penthouse suites in the hotel - a 170 sq m apartment with outstanding facilities and views.  Needless to say, we thoroughly appreciated both the views and the upgrade.

 Last week, I rang The Bolton to make another booking for an upcoming weekend.  I didn't NEED the penthouse suite, but having experienced the luxury of the suite on the previous occasion, I asked the person on the phone how much it would be to upgrade to the penthouse suite.  You guessed it - I booked it. 

 The marketing implications of our first stay are clear: introduce a guest to the best there is (on a complimentary basis), then the guest will pay for future return visits - clever marketing!  And I congratulate The Bolton for this.  However, it was the concluding sentence of my conversation with the hotel staff member that left such a positive impression with me.  She said "Is there anything else we can do to make your stay at The Bolton more comfortable?".   I made some small request before hanging up in awe, pondering on how one sentence made such a difference.  In that one sentence, the staff member at The Bolton told me that I was a valued guest, that the hotel cared about me and that they appreciated my business.  It's a pretty simple concept and it works pretty darn well. I'll stay at The Bolton again, and again, and again ....


Written by Sue Saunders

When I read the headline (above) in The Press (  on 8 October, I saw the accompanying photo of Tsunami damage, together with a smaller headline ‘Tower Insurance'.  For whatever reason, I interpreted the headline incorrectly - that Samoa was claiming that their tally (for whatever) was rising - when it may not be doing so, or when there was no possible reason for it to do so.

In actual fact, the article, quite rightly, meant that the ‘Claims Tally' for Samoa was rising as new damage was located and reported.

No doubt our perception is linked to our experience and maybe we've heard so many people complain about insurance companies that we've been left with the impression that they'll avoid paying out whenever possible.  This article dispels this impression as we read the article more fully, and by informing us that Tower Insurance staff with relatives in Samoa had been given extended paid leave and assistance to fly home and attend to their families.  In other words, Tower Insurance is NOT portraying Samoa in a bad light.

So what's the problem?  None really, apart from the fact that ambiguity in writing continues to create confusion in the mind of the reader.  Whatever it is you want to say, make sure it's unambiguous.

Similar confusion would be generated with the headline:  POLICE FOUND SAFE UNDER BLANKET.

Are we to assume that the police were found, safely huddled together under a blanket, or do we assume that the police found a safe under a blanket?

We all KNOW what we mean when we write a message - but let's make sure that the reader understands the message the way we meant it to be understood!


Written by Sue Saunders


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