Imagine this scenario – you are sitting with your colleagues during lunch. Sam from Finance starts talking about a funny incident from a meeting s/he just had. Everyone at the table is laughing and giggling along. You try really hard to join in but find it hard to keep track because they’re doing so in an unfamiliar dialect. Being the introvert you are, you just remained silent, smiling and nodding uncomfortably while sipping your iced lemon tea.
We’ve all experienced it before. We get so caught up in a conversation that we unconsciously switch to another language at the expense of others. At times, the switching was at our expense. At both ends of the scenario, it becomes an alienating experience for everyone involved because it brings to the forefront our differences (that we often have no control over) rather than our shared experiences.
As companies become more globalized, so will their teams and so will yours. These minor lapses in thinking will have bigger implications for your teams and organisations moving forward. It is that exact change that is driving organizations to place diversity and inclusivity as one of their top priorities.
However, it is easier said than done. Placing a variety of employees in a team regardless of their background, language spoken, or circumstances and hoping it will reflect on your new motto of becoming a more diverse organisation isn’t the way to go. Neither is just attending an HR-organized DEI program and seminar. It is so much more than that. It is in the little initiatives that you actively take to ensure that people around you feel included and valued.
That being the case, LANGUAGE is one of the most powerful tools that creates a welcoming and inclusive environment, whether in a workplace, around friends, in education, or in any other setting.
“Language guides our reasoning.” – Lera Boroditsky, “How language shapes how we think” TEDWomen 2017
WHAT is Language Inclusivity?
A language that avoids the use of words, phrases, and expressions that might exclude, stereotype, or offend certain groups of people. Instead, it aims to promote equality, diversity, and respect for all individuals regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, or any other characteristic.
TLDR? It allows everyone to participate in verbal conversations equally and comfortably.
HOW do we make sure we are being respectful and empathetic with our words in the workplace?
HERE ARE SOME POINTERS!
#1 Assess the situation before using team jargon/acronyms
While getting familiar with team jargon provides you with a sense of belongingness, it is important to note that the use of team jargon can also create barriers to effective communication. Assess the situation and who you are speaking to before using team jargon. If you have to, make an effort to explain what these jargons mean.
#2 Use universal language
Using universal language is extremely important. Everyone has something to bring to the table, but they may be limited by their understanding or proficiency in a certain language. – As much as possible, find the middle ground and leverage common languages because that will enable a greater level of openness, cultural awareness, sensitivity and respect towards one another. Everyone might struggle a little at the start, but you will find conversations becoming richer and more productive because it leverages the brainpower of everyone.
#3 Calling out people who are not being inclusive
The fundamentals of being inclusive mean actively creating a space where everyone feels valued and welcome. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the impact of their actions or language on others. Oftentimes, these people mean no malice. They are simply unaware. This is where calling out comes in. Call out your friends, family or colleagues if they are not being inclusive – they may thank you for it!
To read more on Calling Out, check out this article!
#4 Give constructive feedback
Managers – this one is for you! Be careful of the words you use and the way you say things. The feedback you give as a supervisor may not be interpreted the same way you intended it to be. Don’t reject an idea outright without giving a thoughtful and constructive explanation. An outright rejection can demotivate people and prevent future sharing.
Example: Thank you for sharing. It’s a good idea but instead of viewing it in that way, try this instead!
Practising inclusive language is a tricky thing. It calls for a dedication to fostering an inclusive and respectful culture as well as the readiness to learn and adjust to the viewpoints of others. It can be overwhelming at the start, so we recommend taking things step by step. Which one of the four(4) tips can you put into practice today?