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Lack of Professionalism in the Workplace: Language Choices to Enhance Communication

lack of professionalism in the workplace

Language changes, whether we like it or not. It’s the same with culture, especially workplace culture. A sign of being irrelevant and out-of-touch is the use of old phrases and out-of-date language. That can indicate a lack of professionalism in the workplace. It can interfere with the customer service experience. It can also create barriers in personal relationships between members of different generations or other groups of people. More specifically, using outdated language can keep your message from getting across to the people who need to hear it.

This post is not about what’s politically correct. It’s not about the latest slang. It’s about the choices you make that affect your ability to communicate.

My stepdaughter is 32. She’s a senior project manager for a large company. She is taking online training to get her Project Management Professional certification. In a recent lesson, the instructor, a Gen-Xer, commented that when he started in project management, back in the 80s, he didn’t have the Internet as a resource. He went on to say, “You kids today don’t know how lucky you have it.” Cringe. His condescending, out-of-touch, and irrelevant comment put a communication barrier between him and his Millennial and Gen Z audience. He probably also lost a few Gen Xers and maybe even some Boomers in the process. His comment was not helpful in any way and was off-putting and disrespectful to his audience members.

I took my car in for service recently. There were several women waiting for their cars and I noticed the parts manager, who was probably a Gen Xer, continually referring to the women as “dear”. I’m sure his intention was to seem friendly or it may have simply been a habit. Regardless, his use of an old-school term for referring to someone of the opposite sex can come across as off-putting and condescending.

In your career, you’ll have to deal with people who are different from you. You may not agree with them, you may not even like them, but you’ll still need to deal with them. Regardless of how you feel about the other person, you can still learn how to communicate with them. Start by being aware of how your language choices may affect communication. Then, be intentional about choosing language that enhances communication.

An important part of communicating with people who are different from you is to make language choices that don’t create barriers such as the use of outdated language. I call them “terms of non-endearment”. I wrote a post for my other blog on the topic in 2015 and this is an update to that earlier blog. Here are some commonly used terms of non-endearment that don’t offer any benefit in the workplace. These phrases may create barriers to communication.

  • Dude
  • Honey
  • Bud
  • Dear
  • Love
  • You guys
  • Sweetie
  • Pal
  • Hoss
  • Young Man
  • Young Lady
  • Bro
  • Back in my day
  • You kids don’t know how lucky you’ve got it
  • When you’re older you’ll understand
  • When I was your age
  • Ladies and gentlemen

What about Sir and Ma’am? Some people find even those traditional terms of respect can be off-putting. Reasons include excessive formality, gender identity issues, and negative associations with authority figures.

What about people who list their preferred pronouns? Simple. If they list them, use the pronouns they indicate.

Again, this post is not about political correctness. It’s about avoiding a lack of professionalism in the workplace. It’s about helping you get your message across to others, especially people whom you may not know, including end-users and other customers, with as few barriers as possible. It’s about communicating with people who are different from you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself: What is my purpose in using a particular term? What is the benefit of using that term? What is the possible downside to using the term? How will my communication be affected if I simply don’t use the term?

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