Are You Using Outdated Words To Describe People and Groups?

Have you ever been worried you're using outdated words to describe people and groups? Are you concerned that it may impact your client and professional relationships? Perhaps even offend someone?

Language sends a strong message to our colleagues, especially given the current level of public calling out of people for using words that are perceived as offensive or dated.

Inclusive managers are encouraged not to make assumptions about language preferences across groups, even within your group. 

What is inclusive language? Inclusive language is communication that avoids using words, expressions or assumptions that exclude people across gender, language, culture, religion, race, ability, family structure, marital status, sexuality, origin, class and/or organizational classification.

Why do we use inclusive language? 

Being intentional with our words conveys a genuine effort to truly see and honor people in a way that is most appropriate for them. It is an attempt to address the imbalance in written and spoken language. 

Assuming that others are “just like us” is actually one of the most outdated yet common mistakes made by caring, values-rich people. It’s the difference between the Golden Rule (“Treat Others You Would Like to Be Treated”) and the Platinum Rule (“Treat Others as They Would Like to Be Treated”). The difference between caring and being culturally competent is the ability to de-center oneself and be comfortable navigating a shared space that is about mutual understanding, expectation, and contribution. 

Inclusive language allows you to actively embrace diversity and the intersection of identities.

It also allows you to avoid assumptions that could harm relationships before they even start. Inclusive language is language that shows sensitivity, respect, and open-mindedness towards individuals and groups through positive, accurate, equitable representation. Sometimes simply changing one word for another can make the difference between inclusive and exclusive language. Using words, for example, such as flight attendant instead of stewardess or actor for all actors can help you avoid ascribing gender classifications, sometimes inaccurately. Saying parent instead of mom may also help include more parents and family structures. 

What shifts can you make? 

Think about shifts you can make to ensure that your clients, colleagues, and friends feel included and welcome. For example, instead of saying ladies and gentlemen or men and women, use language that's broader like colleagues, associates, or friends. Instead of using the possessive “my team,” shift language that implies sharing power while acknowledging a relationship such as “our team.”

Another suggestion here is shifting from “people who work for me” to “people who work with me.” Again, a subtle but important shift. In many organizations, people complain to me about language that references work classification such as staff versus professionals or where managers describe their subordinates. Perhaps a simple shift from these words to colleagues could convey an openness that is more in line with your espoused values. 

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