Roger Fairhead Certificate JMT Certified

Taking Offence

“I’d like several other fences to be taken into consideration”

~ Ronnie Barker as Fletcher from the TV Series, “Porridge”.

Ronnie Barker played the part of Norman Stanley Fletcher in a TV comedy series called Porridge. Barker’s character was of a soft-hearted hardened criminal who regularly had a run-in with two of his prison wardens, and who was an unlikely advisor to his newly incarcerated cell-mate, Lennie Godber.

In the initial series, Barker was describing the reason for his unfortunate incarceration, where he had been driving a stolen truck that had dodgy brakes. This truck eventually ran off the road unable to stop, passing through several gardens before ending up embedded into a wall. Apparently, in the ensuing court case, he asked for “several other fences to be taken into consideration” (a play on the more usual “several other offences to be taken into consideration).

In a strange way, watching that episode I was reminded of two current trends that appear to be troubling our nation. These are “taking offence when none was given”, and “judging others by their actions, and ourselves by our intentions”.

“Judging others by their actions, and ourselves by our intentions”.

I suspect that I’m not the only person to have viewed someone else’s actions and made a judgement based on what I saw, only to find that I had totally misunderstood their intentions. Like the time when my daughter went to stroke a passing dog. Now, she was very young at the time, and she absolutely loves dogs. My wife had to intervene when my daughter was reaching out to stroke a passing canine which was growling and had bared teeth when my daughter said “mum, he’s just smiling at me”.

Like the time I was following a vehicle travelling at 5mph below the speed limit in the outside lane in Florida. Three other cars had passed him on the inside, which is perfectly legal in the US, so to avoid forming a queue I carefully followed suit. However, the highway patrol officer following me didn’t seem to understand my intentions, and judging my actions alone pulled me over and helped me to understand that “speeding is an arrestable offence in Florida”. Fortunately, the nice highway patrol officer let me off with a caution, much to my daughter’s amusement.

“Taking offence when none was given”

I am always cautious when someone starts a conversation by saying “I don’t mean to offend you but …”, or “please don’t take offence when I say …”, and then proceed to say something that could easily be taken as offensive. Sometimes this is a genuine attempt to help correct something, such as “please don’t take offence, but you seem to have a problem with body odour”. No offence was intended, rather they were seeking to help point out something that had been overlooked – you need to take care of your personal hygiene. Sometimes, however, this attempt at candour can be taken as offensive.

News reports and soaps seem to be filled with stories of people who have taken offence at something that was said or done. For many of these news reports, there is a genuine grievance that needs to be dealt with, and rightly so, and soaps make a great storyline out of these situations.

However, for some of the stories, there appears to have been no offence intended, and the real issue involves different paradigms, perhaps different cultures and beliefs, maybe a different world view, or perhaps something as simple as naivety or ignorance. No offence was given, yet offence was taken, and then the disagreements start to escalate.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”

It seems to me that we would do well to heed Stephen Covey’s advice, to “seek first to understand, then to be understood”; habit 5 from his “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”.

Communication is formed when an idea that started in your brain and in your worldview, is articulated as words and pictures that I hear and see, and then interpret into an idea that fits within my worldview. That process, though inherently prone to error, is the only method we’ve got. The only way to accurately complete the communication is for me to know your initial thought, and how it fits within your worldview. To seek first to understand.

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.”

~ Don Miguel Ruiz

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a Leadership specialist and uses the PRIZE Winning Leadership model to help leaders improve their effectiveness and that of their teams, through remote and on-site delivery of keynotes, group training events and individual coaching sessions.

He is the author of several books including "PRIZE Winning Leadership" and “Personal Productivity Planner”, a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and a Director of the Global Leadership Network UK with extensive experience in Project Management and Sales.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Roger also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.