Friday, 29 March 2013

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

I was struck again last week- when reading about the problems at Standard Chartered with the forced apology of its Chairman- that the language of ‘sorry’ is so important. As with all things in life, for something to have impact, it has to appear authentic. That authenticity is about both the sentiment behind it and the words used.

Time and again, you hear someone ‘issuing an apology’ and yet it sounds the opposite of an apology. Why? It often has to do with the words they are using. An apology is meant to be something personal. It is meant to convey a personal sense of regret and often asking for pardon, forgiveness etc.

Using words like 'regret' and 'error' rarely work as they appear too formal and out of the textbook- not personal enough. Another oft-used and oft-failed trick is adding hyperbole. "I apologise sincerely" or "with deep regret". This merely highlights the formal word that is being used and so often it doesn't hit the spot. It sounds like the politicians non-apology apology- and we know how sincere politicians can appear to be.

"I am sorry this happened"....."I regret any offence caused" etc etc. What this really means is I am apologising but not really. I know I have to but I don't mean it! People see through it right away. The passive voice does not work- it has to sound like the person saying the words not a third person or a robot!

The secret to an authentic apology is a) to get the words right and b) most importantly to mean it! On the words, it has to be personal. It has to sound like the person apologising is actually apologising. Like most things in life, keeping it simple is the key; "I am sorry" is a good place to start.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Vince Cable; wise man or panderer?

In my eyes, Vince Cable has never been the wise sage of the economy that others portrayed him. This was apparent again recently when hearing his pronouncements on the need for "Plan A+"; slow down the deficit reduction effort and increase borrowing. This plan-a naked bit of political grandstanding in advance of his party's Spring conference- is not worthy of the name. It is simply pandering to his Party's worse instincts. These instincts are driven by the fear of what will happen in 2015 if the Government's tough medicine for the economy continues to give the public a sickly feeling. But, it remains the only show in town- something Mr Cable's Party leader understands- pay down the debt, clear up the mess left by the previous government and hold firm.

This long term strategy may pay off politically by 2015 but if it doesn't it will still have been the right thing to do. Mr Cable would do his standing with sceptics like me better if he put his country before his Party. For me, this recent episode supports the suspicion that Mr Cable appears happier opposing than governing. That he is better suited to commenting on, rather than shaping events. It also appears he is not fully versed in the conventions of collective Cabinet responsibility. This is the work of a political panderer not an economic wise man. And alongside that, it is very, very tedious.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Communicating directly with the people

The President is continuing his strategy of talking directly to the American people to make his case for key policies. He has done this on gun control, the economy and most recently on Friday on the so-called "sequester". This is a smart move but it carries risk.

He is of course a wonderful communicator and being able to get his message across to the people without it being filtered by the news networks and his opponents in Congress has merit. The downside comes when his actions do not match his fine words. The longer it goes with the President not delivering his agenda- frustrated by Congress- the more he becomes the lame duck that all second term Presidents fear. Every time he goes on TV to outmanoeuvre the Republicans, he makes it less likely he can deliver a deal with them. His approach is producing improved poll ratings but so far no big breakthroughs. If he wants policy as well as political success he must not over-play his hand.

Whose nation is it anyway?

Friday was St David's Day as one of my colleagues reminded me by bringing Welsh cakes into the office. It got me thinking about nationality and the labels we place on people.

I was born in Oxford Street, Liverpool (just like John Lennon- I fear the similarities end there!). Like many Scousers I have Irish grandparents and Irish family. I am married to a wonderful woman from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, where we married before crossing the border into the South for our reception and the start of our honeymoon and married life together. Growing up, I spent many, many happy times visiting Scotland and Wales. I have lived in the United Kingdom throughout my life, working in Europe, seeing for myself how this country has become more integrated with its European neighbours and more European in its culture and outlook. I have travelled throughout the world, including spending a lot of time in the United States. Oh, yes and my surname is the most commonly-used in Wales!

What does all this mean? I would argue that it means that the world we live in is a small one and getting smaller by the year. That the old labels and boundaries we once imposed have become less obvious and less important. I would argue that one's nationality or sense of who we are is not as clear cut as it once was or was seen to be. That we are influenced by many, many things, not just where it says on our birth certificate we were born.

I am very comfortable with the following statements; I am extremely proud to be from Liverpool. I am extremely proud to be British (I believe that the United Kingdom is the best place in the world to live and grow up). I am extremely proud to be Irish (I support Ireland when they play England at Rugby- sorry Mr Tebbit!). I extremely proud to be a European. I am extremely proud to be an Atlanticist.

I do not see these statements as conflicting. I see them reflecting the many influences I have been fortunate to have had on my life. The richness of life. Putting people in boxes or placing labels on them may make us feel comfortable and give us some certainty but it does not reflect the complexity of modern life. This world is more grey than black and white. We should embrace that. We should celebrate the wonderful diversity of the these increible islands and this wonderful world.

So hapus Dydd Gŵyl Dewi to all my Welsh fellow British Europeans. I look forward to making similar toasts in 14 days, in Mid-April and in late November.