It’s Halfway through the Election Campaign and have you noticed the Subtle Shift in the Language of our PM?

Kevin RuddMany commentators are now talking about the negative shift in advertising by the incumbent Labor Government towards a fear-mongering campaign. This comes as Mr Rudd departs from his pledge for kinder politics and launches into a negative advertising campaign attacking the opposition leader. There is no coincidence that this shift in campaign focus follows the latest opinion polls indicating that Labor’s primary vote is falling away dramatically. However I want to draw your attention to another far more subtle indication that the personal focus of our Prime Minister has shifted considerably in the past 48 hours.

SignpostsAs I have said previously on many occasions, we are all a walking, talking signpost of clues about our state of mind at any given time while we are engaged in our work, and our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is no different. The language we use is such a powerful indicator of how we are thinking and perceiving our world, and even though the political minders would like to think they are able to control what is said and when and how it is said so that their political masters stay ‘on message’ in an electoral campaign, occasionally a tell-tale sign slips in to give another more subtle indication of the real state of play.

One thing that seems apparent with the language that Kevin Rudd uses is that his main mental filter is to “Sort by Self.” People who ‘Sort by Self’ tend to view the world in a far more insular way than those at the opposite end of the spectrum, which is ‘Sort by Others.’ If you combine this with an equally strong Internal Frame of Reference (as opposed to an External Frame of Reference), you will notice tell-tale language indicators in the form of how Mr Rudd refers to himself with regard to most topics of conversation.

The most obvious example to observe is how he speaks from a ‘first person,’ self-focused point of view versus a ‘team’ focus. In Kevin Rudd’s case you will not be surprised to hear that the words “I,” “mine,” “my team,” and the “Government that I lead” have been front and centre of just about all of his communication. I have listened carefully to his speeches and announcements over the past decade and invariably this is the way he describes his ‘model of the world’ regardless of whether he is speaking as Leader of the Opposition; deposed Prime Minister, Foreign Minister or a humble back-bencher in parliament.

Very rarely on balance will you hear the words “we” or “our” or other inclusive language as part of Kevin Rudd’s everyday vernacular. This is neither good nor bad, it’s just the way it happens to be for him, and depending on the circumstances, voters will either be dismayed by this seeming lack of ‘team’ focus and become increasingly wary of what appears to be a ‘one man band’ approach to policy making (social media ‘selfies’ notwithstanding), or they will be impressed by the indicators of strong leadership that it may imply to them, and the fact that the speaker is talking directly to them on a ‘one-to-one level.’

No doubt during the early days of the election campaign, this style of language resonated with many voters who may have been sitting on the fence, or even die-hard Labor voters who were re-considering their support for a Labor Government that seemed to have lost its way. They just wanted to see a strong leader who came in and led from the front, making decisions in an assertive, focused way and then moving on to the next issue. Kevin Rudd’s style of communication reassured many of those voters that maybe, just maybe, he was the strong leader they were craving – ‘Mr Fixit ’ even.

There was a telling sign late last week that all may not be well with the rest of Mr Rudd’s team, when at the end of the week whilst campaigning in Darwin he announced ‘out of the blue’ that he had plans for a special business tax haven in the Northern Territory. The fact that he did not have any further information to support his announcement may or may not be an indicator of making policy on the run. I am sure he is not the first campaigner on either side of the political fence to make sweeping statements that sound good to those for whom it is meant, but are very short on detail. But surprisingly, when one of his Cabinet Ministers whose portfolio that announcement would impact upon, was asked the same day what he knew about this latest policy, his answer was that, “He had just heard about it that morning when it was announced.” Very strange! Now let’s move on to Kevin Rudd’s most recent communications.

KEVIN RUDD AWB PRESSERWhat change in language have I noticed in Mr Rudd’s communication style that indicates to me that he has had a major shift in perception, self-belief even, that the campaign may be slipping away from him personally? Undoubtedly when Kevin Rudd rested back the office of PM from his predecessor Julia Gillard, the Labor Government was trailing significantly in the polls and was headed for a complete rout according to all of the pundits. The ascension of Mr Rudd to the top job arrested that serious decline and when the election date was finally announced and the formal campaign commenced in earnest, he had almost pulled his Labor Government back from the brink to an even-money race with the Opposition.

A lot of that dramatic change in fortune came from Kevin Rudd’s popularity with the public as preferred Prime Minister combined with the fact that there was the inevitable ‘honeymoon’ period with the new, re-cycled ‘broom’ sweeping back into power, and the chance to finish what he had started before he was so unceremoniously dumped by his colleagues years earlier. I am sure that the Australian deeply-held sense of ‘fair play’ had some part to play in that reversal of fortune in the polls.

But just today there has been one strong indicator of this change in Kevin Rudd’s own highly tuned level of self belief that he and he alone can lead the Labor Party out of the wilderness and onward to victory. This unshakeable level of self belief has been one of Kevin Rudd’s strongest weapons within his armoury as a politician, and one which finally convinced his political colleagues to shift their allegiances back to him when defeat in Government was fast looming, despite any personal misgivings they may have had.

Something in the language of Kevin Rudd has now changed, and even though he says he continues to believe that this election is winnable and he argues publicly that he shouldn’t be written off in this election despite another poor showing in the polls, today a tell-tale sign has emerged to say otherwise. It is just the tiniest of details, but it is there nonetheless.

For the first time in this campaign that I can recall, Kevin Rudd has shifted focus from the first person (i.e. “I, me, mine” etc) in his communication to the third person in describing the situation he now faces. i.e. He has now been heard saying…. “Kevin Rudd doesn’t…..”

If you think this is just an inconsequential slip of the tongue that doesn’t count for much, my ‘take’ on it is that halfway through the campaign trail for re-election, our PM has unconsciously begun to disassociate himself personally from the pain of losing. He may not be consciously aware of it yet, but his language is there for you to hear, if you listen for the clues.

From this point on, you may begin to notice other shifts in language – some subtle, some not-so-subtle. Undoubtedly you will also witness the government’s message moving away from what “I, Kevin Rudd as your PM will do if re-elected” towards what “They, the Opposition will do/not do” and “He, Tony Abbott will do/not do if elected,” and this is to be expected as a conscious decision by the campaign managers being made in light of the deteriorating opinion poll situation.

But I for one, will be watching for the hidden tell-tale signs that slip out from Kevin Rudd’s mouth as the political landscape changes around him. It will be fascinating to watch. For those of you who may well be asking, “What about Tony Abbott? Isn’t his language worth dissecting too?” my response is a resounding ‘yes.’

But for now, he is not the PM, and besides, his political journey in the public arena hasn’t been such a topsy-turvy, roller coaster ride to follow, where the personal trials and tribulations and character traits have been laid quite so bare for all to see. Kevin Rudd and all of his character strengths and flaws have always been in full view over his journey so that is why as a profiler, I will continue to watch for the signs while the opportunity is in front of me.

I would love to read your thoughts and comments here as we enter the final stages of the election race.

Drop me an email to if you would like to discuss further how to understand the people who work for you and how to leverage that knowledge for the benefit of them and your organisation.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less. Have a great week – Brian

Precision ProfilingWhat Makes You Tick? Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your team.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

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  1. I agree…there has been a subtle change but also in the body language. The shoulders are more rounded and there is not the bounce in the step. I feel that he is going through the motions.
    It is however still 3 weeks to go and there will be stuff ups still to come

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