Better communication with intentional language
“Hi guys! Would you like some champagne?”
This was how M – the woman tending bar at a swanky art event I recently attended – greeted me and my two female (and notably, zero male) – friends. Immediately, my impression of the event was marred. While I’m certain M was well-intended, being addressed as a “guy” felt wrong. It felt tone-deaf and irritating, and lowered my opinion of the quality of the experience at this event. I am definitively not a guy, I don’t see myself as a guy. A guy indicates male, a man, a boy, a fellow. That’s not me.
In both my work and personal life, I’ve been struck by the reliance on and attachment to the use of “guys” to address groups that include women and those who identify as non-binary. Like when a manager opening a team meeting announces “Guys, we exceeded our Q2 quota.” Or a sales representative tells her customers “you guys will love our new solution, ” or a keynote speaker tries to raise the energy in a room of 500 by saying “I want to hear from you guys!” There is clearly no intention to offend, in fact, it’s used unconsciously by most, and sometimes as a way to soften one’s demeanor, to appear friendly. It’s undoubtedly rooted in positive intent.
In the spirit of better communication, let’s shine a light on this truth: using gender-inclusive language is essential to creating strong communication experiences.
Why? Because it’s always about “them.” Not us. When crafting and delivering a message of any kind, it’s important to first and foremost consider the listeners and see the world through their eyes. The most effective communication experience involves influencing, inspiring, and connecting with your listeners – whether in a conversation with friends, a meeting with executive stakeholders, a team gathering, a customer interaction, or in front of a stadium-size audience. When you fail to use gender-inclusive language, and for example, address your listeners as “guys,” you’re at risk of alienating someone, possibly making them feel excluded. And the stakes are even higher in business settings if that person is the decision-maker or another valuable relationship. To influence, inspire, and connect with people, making them feel included and respected is vital.
Over the years, I’ve informally surveyed women to understand their perspective on being called “guys.” To drive home the point, I’ve suggested that nobody opens a conversation or meeting with a mixed-gender group of people with “hi gals!” What’s emerged falls along the lines of “It doesn’t bother me,” and “it’s a good point, you’re right, but it’s too hard to find an alternative.”
Alternatives abound, people! Try these, for example:
“Hey all, how are you doing today?”
“You are all working so hard and it shows.”
“You two make me laugh.”
“What does everyone think?”
“Folks, it’s time to finish up.”
And don’t forget, “you” can be used to represent more than one person. Imagine saying to an audience of any size “You
guys are so energetic!” It works, right?
Try one! Your value as a communicator increases when you choose your words consciously, optimizing for inclusivity and respect, always with your listeners in mind.
It’s hard to change habits but we can always do better, y’all. I’ll toast to that.