It makes us laugh. A harmless mistaken word and we giggle. Mrs Malaprop (The Rivals, Sheridan) gave her name to those little errors where the word sounds the same but means something totally different (‘a pine apple of politeness’ she said, meaning ‘pinnacle’)
And Freudian slips make us laugh. Gordon Brown suggested he’d saved the world in 2008, not just the banks.
But there is really useful data in these slips, and they can help us see the situation in a totally different way.
My two favourites from this week:
A Board Member was talking about recent changes in the financial relationship with the parent company. It was not all good, he felt it had been forced to some extent, and that it had revealed the ‘true colours’ of one or two individuals.
‘I don’t want to get into the business of conversation…’
He had meant ‘condemnation’. What a wonderful unconscious instinct. It was others who had failed to talk.
Conversation was exactly the business to be in.
And on the Today programme recently, a German diplomat (completely bi-lingual) was talking about recent violent events in his country. The line of questioning was to understand whether there was a pattern. Were these individuals at work or was there a structured network operating?
The Diplomat weighed up the pros and cons of the network theory, and noted
‘There are always lonely wolves…’
And in that one substitution of ‘lonely’ for ‘lone’ the whole issue is reframed.
While a lone wolf is a symbol of fear and danger, a ‘lonely’ wolf becomes something so different, even – possibly – reachable.
Listen for the slips. It’s where the answers are.