I think we can all agree that language matters in the workplace. Often this is a culture indicator; the leadership team at the silk-stocking law firm may (in public at least) be formal and circumspect – “Miss Blankenship, will you please come in here and bring your steno pad?” The dudes running the tech start up down the street however embrace my favorite four-letter word and freely interject this vivid descriptor into any and all conversations – “What the f’ing hell is going on with this f’ing beta test?”
Language also reflects how we view and treat our employees – sometimes in subtle ways. This struck me the other day after separate conversations with two different leaders from two wildly divergent industries. Fellow A spoke of his team in the context of “we” while Fellow B referred to his staff members as if they were his possessions.
Ours vs. Mine
It struck me that Fellow A came across as inclusive; exhibiting a spirit of “we’re all in this together.” Fellow B, on the other hand, came across as a total dick. Everyone in his glorified solar system orbited around him; he could scarcely speak of others without relying on his own title and elevated function to describe their jobs.
Do your leaders or managers say:
- “my administrative assistant” or “the department’s administrative assistant”
- “my A/P clerk” or “our A/P clerk”
- “my HR Rep” or “the company’s HR Rep”
Does it sometimes make sense for a bona-fide denizen of the C-suite to say “contact my assistant to schedule that?” Sure. Although saying “contact my assistant Ida to schedule that” (use her name!) recognizes Ida as a self-sustaining and productive member of the team and not merely an entity that exists solely for the continuation of Mr. C-Suite’s exaltation.
Know what I mean?
This isn’t Mad Men anymore – “My girl will take your coat.” “My girl can get some coffee for you.”
Oh well, it’s 2 pm. Freshen up my drink won’t you Miss Blankenship?