Watch your language!

In a recent seminar, I could not help but notice how people unintentionally use diminishing language in their conversation. They were basically talking things down. I notice that more often and most people who do it, are not aware of it.

In the Dutch language, it is sometimes very easy to do. We can add the letters “je” or “tje” to many words and then suddenly it is a smaller entity of itself. For example, when you talk about a car you can talk about “auto” or about “autootje” and suddenly it is a little car. That can still sound cute. However, some early-stage entrepreneurs talk not about their “bedrijf” (company), but about their “bedrijfje” (little company). Now it feels as if they don’t take their startup company seriously.

There is another type of talking down and that is by using other words that don’t respect the situation or the individual. For instance, in the field of business, how would you like to be referred to in your company: as an FTE, as a staff member, as an employee, or as personnel?

It is all about respect. Clearly being referred to as an FTE shows no form of respect for you and your contribution to the company. It sounds as if you are an interchangeable object that can easily be swapped out for another.

Use of language can work diminishing and can lower performance.

The same applies the other way around. When you talk about your team, or your alliance partners, language that shows respect and pride will help boost your performance within that context. The people you are referring to will feel appreciated and will, when needed, probably bring in that extra effort.

The use of language not only influences the other party, it influences your own performance as well. Inclusive language will bring your colleague or alliance partner closer. Do you talk about your alliance partner as “they” or do you talk about the alliance as “we”?

Often we are not aware of our own language, simply because we are used to a certain way of using it. The language in your company is also ingrained in a way that you often won’t notice it anymore. So, a little exercise for this week to inspire you to think about your language: take note!

Use a part of the whiteboard in your office or pick a piece of paper that you keep at hand. Now, every time you catch yourself using excluding or diminishing language, write the words down. Next, in a second column, you can write the words that you better could have used.

Awareness is step one towards self-improvement. This little exercise inspires your awareness. You will notice during the week that you will catch yourself using “old” language and start to replace it with new, respectful and inclusive language.

Share your experience and have fun!


Further reading:

The book “Getting to WE”* by Jeanette Nyden, Kate Vitasek, and David Frydlinger describes how the “What’s In It For We” mindset drives collaborative relationships. In the book you will read that inclusive language is one part of creating a truly collaborative relationship together.


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