I am passionate about words. I have been working with them for over four decades. Written or spoken, they are our only means of communicating effectively. In a high-tempo and saturated digital age more than ever writing is a vital business and life skill that should not be left to chance and whim. Writing, good or bad, impacts the bottom line.
I am concerned primarily with formal or business-type writing. I avoid distinctions between so-called ‘creative’ and ‘non-creative’ writing. To me, all writing and communicating is creative, though it is much more a science than an art. Effective writing seeks both to impart and influence: to transmit information and meaning as accurately, clearly and quickly as possible while maximising comprehension and retention for the least stress on the recipient to influence them in a desired way.
My journey through the world of words began early. I was raised bilingual in the UK, studied Latin and Ancient Greek at school, then Russian at university in the UK and the Soviet Union. Cross-cultural communication comes naturally to me. I speak English, Serbo-Croatian and Russian.
I served for two decades as an officer in the British army and was formally trained in government writing at Sandhurst and the Staff College. Practicing its principles throughout my military career, I have carried these rigors on into civilian life combining them with the latest neuroscientific research in effective writing. I was also formally trained as a practitioner in Psychological Operations – PsyOps. Known in the Second World War as the ‘black arts’, influencing operations seek to effect desired outcomes without recourse to violence.
These skill sets coalesced in my role as a UN military mediator during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, where miscommunication and failed negotiations were measured in lives. I was responsible for mediating ceasefires, hostage releases, prisoner and body exchanges, freedom of movement agreements and the 1995 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. This work, for which I was appointed MBE in July 1995, is described in my book, Trusted Mole, published to critical acclaim by HarperCollins in April 2000.
“Your liaison function in particular between BH Command and Pale was wholly indispensable to the peace process… Without this I doubt we would have got the necessary signatures.”
General Sir Michael Rose, Commander UNPROFOR 1994
My positive experiences of PsyOps in the Balkans subsequently led me to the study Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) of which I am a master practitioner and in which I have a particular interest in subliminal messaging and the use of hypnotic language. In turn, this drew me deeper into the realm of depth psychology and the study of Archetypal Application – the deep drivers of human behaviour and the silent actors in conflict and its resolution. I use many of the excellent linguistic components of NLP in my writing and mediating where language plays a vital role. While my knowledge of archetypal activity in parties in dispute greatly assists me in the mediation process, I also share that knowledge with other mediators and Alternative Dispute Resolution practitioners through workshops.
With respect to mediation, my experience of conflict has been profound. Between 1987 and 2007 I spent 20 years in a perpetual state of conflict, either armed or legal: 1988-1997 in Northern Ireland, Mozambique, Iraq/Kuwait, and the Balkans; 1997-2007 in legal conflict with the British government. I am one of the very few mediators to have experience of protracted litigation, ultimately electing to take my case to trial in the Royal Courts of Justice. Consequently, I know better than most the limitations and pitfalls of litigation. As a mediator, now accredited with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, this has stood me in good stead, the better to facilitate effective communication between parties in dispute.
“Looked at objectively, there is no doubt that what happened to the Claimant has been unfair and the consequences serious…he was an impressive and realistic witness.”
The Honourable Mr. Justice Saunders, Royal Courts of Justice, 9 November 2007
Writing. I range easily across various communication styles, having written extensively over nearly forty years in or for professional organisations in the security, health and safety and media industries often combining graphics and text to their best effect. My work typically includes: document creation; analysis, proposals; policy; threat and vulnerability assessments; risk assessments; and formal and informal correspondence. And: proof reading; copy editing; wordsmithing; copywriting and translating meaning from Russian and Serbo-Croatian into boardroom English. I have also written reviews for various publications.
Speaking. On my journey I have cheated death, survived some shattering life-changing events and walked through the dark night of the soul, forced to face and slay dragons. I emerged with a gift – stronger, wiser and more resilient. General George S. Patton had the measure of resilience: ‘I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but by how high he bounces when he hits bottom.’ But, what is the difference that makes the difference? Why, when faced with insurmountable odds do some people buckle while others bounce? What would happen to you? Buckle or bounce? We think we know, but we don’t until it actually happens. In Facing the Dragons I keynote on human resilience using my own experiences to illuminate this ephemeral quality.
Since leaving the military in 2000 I have worked in over 100 countries on six continents mainly but not exclusively in the security, health & safety and media sectors. Having studied Russian in the Soviet Union in the mid 1980s I returned to Moscow when I left the army to work in a Russian business intelligence company as a translator-writer. Over the intervening two decades I have travelled regularly to and across the Russian Federation on security, health & safety, media and new market entry assignments.