Language Matters

Last week I was pulled up on my language. I wasn’t pleased to be criticized but I held my tongue and smiled through tight lips.

You might guess I was pulled up for swearing, but no, it wasn’t for swearing. It was for speaking well of someone. Yes, I agree, how could I have gone wrong with that?

Well, it’s a long story I’ll try to make short. I was speaking with someone about a female colleague and saying she is wonderful, and I used words like ‘lovely’. All true I might add. Another woman pulled me up and asked if I’d speak about a man that way? The penny dropped and I immediately saw the problem.

For the rest of the week I listened to the words other people use to describe men and women — and I was astounded.

I observed that when talking about women, women use words like, lovely, clever, wonderful, dresses well — or bitch.

When women talk about men they use words like, switched on, going places, powerful, well positioned, politically smart, inspiring, arrogant and impressive — or dickhead.

On the other hand men use the following words to describe women, good, committed, diligent, experienced, knowledgeable, competent — or ok.

Men talking about men say, impressive, powerful, politically smart, effective, and connected — or — they say nothing.

I’ve concluded, my language, and the language of others around me perpetuates the distinction between men and women at work. Both men and women use ‘nice’ words to describe women, nice and passive.

If you were looking for a new senior executive would you choose the person described as lovely and competent or someone described as impressive and powerful? Perhaps it explains in part the lag for promotion of women?

I am officially amending my language from now on to describe women using more of the action and outcome delivery focus.

Feedback, while annoying can be very useful.

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