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  • Writer's pictureSarah Cleaver MA CPsychol AFBPsS

If you do this one thing.... Stop!

I was on the train to London last week, munching toast and sipping coffee, when I began to overhear a conversation.... as you do. I didn't mean to eavesdrop! But the new electric trains are so quiet...

I was hearing a female professional and her male colleague. The conversation was going something like this:

She: So I think we need to investigate this a little further? To see if there could have been another explanation?

He: I don't care, I want him out.

She: We need to be seen to have acted reasonably? Followed a fair process?

He: I don't care about any of that. He's had enough chances, and I want him out.

Now, I didn't see either of the speakers. But my thought was this:

Here is a woman who clearly knows what she is talking about. She is trying to save her employer from making a costly mistake. Why is she putting a question mark at the end of every sentence?

Of course - you don't see the question mark, you hear it. It's a rising inflection at the end of the sentence. And I think, for this speaker, it's shorthand for: Do you understand what I mean? Do you agree? It's quite an inclusive way of speaking - but I think it could be doing some very subtle damage to her credibility.

Putting that question mark in, leaves the door open for disagreement. There are times

when it's fine and appropriate, but if it's become a habit, stop and think! If you know what you are talking about, replace that question mark with a firm tone. Explain your reasons, sure. But sound like you mean it.

If you are interested to know more about the workplace politics of conversation, do have a read of Deborah Tannen's "Talking from 9 to 5" to find out about the subtle ways that workplace control happens.

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