By: Lori Metze
The way one person speaks to another has a far-reaching impact on both people, on a conscious and a subconscious level. The words a person chooses spark a series of associations, images, emotions and even memories in the neural net of anyone within earshot. Did you know you wielded such power every day?
Here’s an experiment to try right now. Say out loud, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” What does your mind’s eye dredge up? Do you picture a man exploring the universe or a woman? Despite being told many times in your youth that the word “man” in that sentence includes both men and women, your own logical brain will likely still produce an image of a male explorer. Why? Because the definition of the word “man” is “an adult male person, as distinguished from a boy or woman.” (Dictionary.com). When you hear, “to boldly go where no woman has gone before,” do you picture a man? Probably not.
With the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation ™, writers swapped out one word from the opening monologue, changing “man” to “one,” eradicating exclusive sexist language from at least one instance in our pop culture. To follow this great example, be sure to use gender-neutral language when speaking of a team comprised of both men and women. This sends out into the universe an accurate message (and accrues good karma at the same time).
Using inclusive language not only refers to including both genders, but using it or ignoring it can divide or bring together a team in quite another way. Imagine you are in a meeting where a colleague, Susan, is in charge of the opening statement. She begins by saying, “I have created this year’s budget plan and I would like to present it to you today. I’ve worked hard on this and know you will find it suits your needs.” You are next in line to speak and in, fact, wrote the budget being presented based on research provided by all five team members. In short, this is a team effort (as is usually the case) and not Susan’s One-Woman Show. You, as well as the rest of the team, are likely feeling a bit excluded and possibly somewhat resentful at this point. The word “I” and “my” refer to one person and that is the information those words send out.
Inclusive language, on the other hand, promotes team unity. Not only do terms like “we” and “our” let everyone know that more than one person was involved or has ownership, but it has the nice side effect of generating feelings of being appreciated. When you hear the word “our,” referring to something you helped create, you know your contribution was noted and important. No doubt you want to spread that joy as much as you can – the world needs more of it.
Like anything else you’ve been doing since you were two, though, the way you speak is a life-long habit and you may need to ask others to help you gain awareness in order to assess your speaking style and become more inclusive. Take a week and try it – you may find using inclusive language has such a positive result in your business endeavors that you will want to move the same principle over to your personal life, where its regular use can be equally as life improving.