Trust and the wrong tone

Dominic Cummings, a UK Government advisor, was outed for an ill-conceived trip to Barnard Castle during the Spring 2020 lockdown (a place which ought to be famous for its mechanical silver swan rather than policital shenanigans).

In his statement, he made a series of increasingly bizarre claims about testing his eyesight. But I’m not interested in this man’s behaviour at the time but the fact that his statement seemed entirely untrustworthy.


Because this words smacked of having been written by a lawyer as a witness statement. Witness statements (or depositions) have a particular narrative style which doesn’t reflect the way normal people normally speak.

When I listen back, his statement was not that of a well-educated adult but a series of bare facts more akin the structure of my childhood holiday diaries: On <date> we did <activity 1>. We did not do <activity 2>. We did <activity 3>…. I felt a bit sick. We walked to <place>. We went back to our holiday cottage and on the way <x> needed the toilet. <X> and mummy got out of the car. Then we went home.

The problem is that this sort of stilted simplistic sentence structure is designed to give a bald version of the facts to suit a specific purpose. It is disingenuous at best and he came across as completely untrustworthy.

What should you do?

Your tone of voice comes over in a document in just the same way that it does in a spoken statement, including in your contract or your T&C.

Read your contract aloud. Does it make you sound like you shouldn’t be trusted/are hiding something, or that it was written by a lawyer to be read by a lawyer?

Your business and your clients deserve better. So keep it simple and write it plainly.

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