Rebel talk

Intervention. Usually, it’s what takes place between people arguing or fighting. We intervene to stop things getting worse.

Perhaps, then, it’s not so odd that it’s a word used so frequently by health professionals. A medical intervention. A surgical intervention. A psychiatric intervention.

Personally, I think it’s a hard word. It makes me imagine someone coming at me with some kind of instrument. It conveys none of the sense of curing or caring, healing or making better that is its presumed aim. And it’s on my mind because my wife Sarah and I had a conversation about it at dinner last night.

Sarah’s a counsellor and some of her work is in the NHS where she’s available to counsel hard-pressed staff, from consultant physicians through to hospital porters. We were talking about how she approaches a first session with a new client and the discussion she has with them about what they might need. ‘I tell them that there are a variety of interventions available,’ she said.

I questioned the use of the word, saying that I felt it was depersonalising. We explored alternatives. ‘There are a variety of approaches we could take,’ was better, we agreed. But the best was, ‘there are lots of different ways we can help you.’ Rather than the abstract ‘intervention’, this phrase contained the three very real and human words ‘we’, ‘you’ and ‘help’.

The trouble is, like legionnaire’s disease, ‘interventions’ and all the other abstractions of health-speak breed in the air conditioning of hospitals, and in their own way I believe they’re just as lethal. For anyone who is sick, one of the most important things surely is to be treated humanely, to be made to feel cared for, and language that fails to do that is no part of the healing process, quite the reverse in fact. But in a monolithic organisation like the NHS, making the conscious decision not to adopt that way of speaking takes courage. It’s a small but important act of rebellion.

Talking of which, there may be rebellion in the air on the publishing front. First, a question: what does Room 121 mean to you? Does it intrigue you, perhaps make you wonder what goes on there, perhaps remind you of Orwell’s Room 101?

It’s the title of the new book that John Simmons and I are writing, on the subject of writing for business. It’s sub-titled ‘a masterclass in business communication’. Our contention is that to communicate well you have to write as one human being to another, one-to-one, in fact. In writing the book we’re creating a space, a room if you like, where people can come to learn. And the form in which we’re writing it, as a series of 52 weekly exchanges, directly reflects the title.

But our publishers’ head office is in Singapore and we’re currently ‘in discussions’ with them because they tell us that ‘readers in Singapore don’t get the title’. Perhaps they’d get a title like How to write better for business, but there are umpteen books out there making that claim. Room 121 is aimed at people who already write for business and regard it as a craft they’d like to improve. These are people who’ve got beyond advice such as ‘use active verbs and personal pronouns’. They want to be intrigued, entertained and enlightened.

We’d love to know how you respond to this title. Like it? Hate it? Find it confusing? If you have a moment to leave a comment here, or email me direct, it would be a great help to us. (If you’ve already responded to John, don’t worry – and thank you!)

And finally, I may not be able to post next week. I’ll be in Marrakech, charging the solar batteries in readiness for the next round of snowmageddon.


About Jamie Jauncey

Author, writer, blogger, facilitator, musician, co-founder of Dark Angels and The Stories We Tell
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6 Responses to Rebel talk

  1. Bruce Gordon says:

    Jamie, I find myself, oddly, agreeing with your publishers on this. A title that relies on a mis-spelling pun to make its point, for a book about the fine art of direct and simple communication, is tripping over itself before it even gets started. Or perhaps shooting itself in the foot. It's a clever title if you stop to think about it, but how many bookshop browsers will stop to think about it? I hope you can resolve this with the publishers. And i very much look forward to reading the book when it's eventually published.

  2. Bigbrandjohn says:

    I thnk we need an intervention here. What a terrible excuse for not communicating with your adoring audience. What could be better than a few kind words over a piping hot Turkish coffee admiring the scenery and soaking up the wi fi to tell your story of relaxation and retreat.

  3. Owen says:

    JamieI think it is a bit too obscure. I can see you want to appeal to people who care about language enough in the first place, who might indeed understand the reference. But it limits its appeal to native and almost word-perfect English speakers. In Singapore, you will certainly be seeking to interest people for whom English is not their first language. Something simpler and more dramatic would be better. Does this count as an intervention?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I'm in the 'not Room 121' camp. For me it's surrounded by associations with that feeling you get when being presented with the door key at an impersonal business hotel. My suggestion would be to think in the style of 'a few kind words' for a title because it's full of warmth. I'll put my thinking cap on and see if I can come up with some suggestions!Chris Meredith

  5. It's good to get your feedback, unanimously against, it seems! Book titles are often divisive, though I'm not honestly sure how much difference they make in the end of the day. But thanks anyway, and watch this space!

  6. Moira Munro says:

    Oh dear, I didn't get the pun, I just got the fleeting thought it's something to do with Room 101. Certainly go for an intriguing, exciting, warm title, but there's always subtitles for the (duller) explanation of what the book's about.Moira

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