When Boris Johnson, writing in an article in the Telegraph, referred to women dressed in the Burqa as looking like letterboxes and bank robbers, he did so knowing that using such language would cause offence and controversy. In other words he made a conscious choice to offend a particular group in our society, for purely political reasons. The problem with this approach is that it weakens and distracts from the valid debate about the place of these types of religious dress in a liberal democracy.
Mediators see these types of techniques all the time in conflict between parties. Rather than focus on the 'problem' they begin to focus on aggressive and personal attacks on the people involved. This is inherently unhelpful in a conflict situation , and mediators are trained to separate the people from the problem in order to fully and objectively understand the problem and thereby find solutions to address it.
In addition mediators are trained in the power of language and to use it to positive effect to help resolve conflict, which is the direct opposite of the Johnson approach. For example the CEDR Mediator Training Handbook encourages mediators to use reframing, which it describes as
"...changing the words used or the way in which ideas are presented, so as to allow the situation to be viewed differently and more positively"
Maybe if Mr Johnson trained as a mediator and learnt to separate the people from the problem and use language for a more positive effect he would be able to solve problems rather than create them.
James South is the Managing Director of CEDR and a mediator, conflict resolver and trainer on CEDR's world renowned Mediator Skills Training Programme.
To book James as a mediator or to train as a mediator yourself, contact CEDR on 020 7536 6000
Warsi accused Johnson of making “hate crime more likely” with indefensible “dog whistle” references to Muslim women. “Well, this approach is not just offensive, it’s dangerous. Johnson’s words have once again validated the view of those that ‘other’ Muslims. They send out a message that Muslim women are fair game,” the former cabinet minister wrote.