Concept of the Month -- March 2005

The Use of the Offender's Language is Counterproductive in Interviewing and Counseling

In some quarters, the conventional wisdom is that one should use the language of the client in order to establish rapport, show him/her your understanding, and so on. I have found that doing this provides an obstacle to effective interactions rather than facilitating them.

Next to committing a crime, the next most exciting experience for an offender is to talk about crime (drugs, etc.) using the language of the street -- not just the four letter words, but the slang, and street vernacular. When the agent of change uses this language, the offender will think you are trying to court his favor. He will not respect you. If you use it correctly, he may conclude you are just like he is, and perhaps he can get you on his side.

This does not mean that you must use the "King's English". And, of course, you should speak in a manner so that your client will understand you. But using plain-spoken, everyday language is all that is necessary or desirable.

You may say, "But I came up in the streets myself, and that language is natural for me." Of course, you need to be yourself. Adopting any sort of artificial pose is undesirable, transparent in its intent to the offender. "Being yourself" does not mean that you need to use curse words or language derisive of another person..

Remember, our intent as interviewers/counselors is to communicate in as effective a manner as possible. Using the offender's language does exactly the opposite!

Stanton E. Samenow

Return to Dr. Samenow's Homepage