Dec 02 2013
In this age of political correctness, I often wonder whether attempts to maintain sensitivity to all things has taken us too far or not far enough. Have we gone too far in our attempts to be politically correct (pc) about just about everything? It has changed our language, our communication and our own sensitivity to the world around us. What was once acceptable is no longer so, in the name of that inoffensiveness.
One common example of this can be found in many restaurants. Waitresses routinely use the words “dear,” “sweetheart,” “sweetie,” “hon,” “honey”, or “darling” with little to no concerns over potential repercussions from the use of these words when addressing customers. However, in a corporate office environment, use of these and similar expressions might have their user brought up on sexual harassment charges. Replacing those terms with “sir” or “ma’am” may be pc, but they are also polite and appropriate.
Marketers, business owners, even entire industries have numerous names for the people who procure their goods and services. What association do you get when you hear/see: “Customer”; “Client”; “Consumer”; “Public Partner”; “Supporter”; “Patron”; “Affiliate”; “Fan”; “Shopper”; “Buyer”? These words all share the idea that goods and services are changing hands, usually for money or trade. But in spite of that commonality, some industries insist the recipients of their goods and services be only referred to in one way. With the exception of the word: “Patient”, usually referring to one who receives medical services, most of those words could be used interchangeably!
Typically we think of a “client” as one who receives legal services or counsel. But the legal profession shuns the use of “customer” or “consumer”. Non-profit agencies that provide services to job seekers seem have taken to referring to the people they serve only as “consumers” rather than “clients”. Weird because the former most frequently refers to those who receive goods rather than services. The word “consumers” further implies the exchange of money for goods, yet in most cases services provided by those agencies are not paid for out-of-pocket by the end user; it’s usually the responsibility of a third party/entity, like insurance companies, and state agencies such as departments of rehabilitation. (Do they service clients or consumers?)
Does the name of a professional sports franchise, need to be pc? Is the proposed change of the Washington Redskins football team motivated by the NFL’s or the team’s interest in being “more pc”? The team name is symbolic of a group that has a long and proud history and fighting spirit? Is the name inappropriate because the team isn’t comprised of all or mostly Native Americans? Is it because they were mistreated for so many years? If that’s the case, then teams shouldn’t be named after animals that are frequently hunted or on endangered species lists. Is the name “Redskins” really any more pejorative than “Cowboys”? Is the Dallas football team comprised of any guys who rope cattle and ride horses all day? Uh, no! Does inclusion of the word “devil” in a baseball team’s name (now the Tampa Bay Rays) infer Satanic worship? No! In some areas I think we really have gone too far.
But I applaud some of the language alterations that have come about in an attempt to be more respectful and generate positive images. “Disabled” or even “physically challenged” are certainly better words than “handicapped”. But I particularly like the word “handi- capable” for its implications of ability and overcoming obstacles. When a vocabulary can improve negative perceptions everyone benefits. Maybe we haven’t gone far enough.
Sports, or in any industry, how you communicate – the sensitivity and accuracy of your words and actions – will influence others’ responsiveness, acceptance and respect toward you. If your industry’s typical style is pc, then by all means you need to adapt to those protocols. If the linguistic style is more colorful and less “corporate”, you still need to be respectful of where you are and how you communicate with others!
The bottom line is: The language that you use should be appropriate for the environment you’re in, and the people you are with. If you are rude and crude with your friends and such usage is common to your group, fine. But be careful to not let that part of your style show in the workplace where non-pc communication can get you in trouble with co-workers and/or management, and could get you fired. Others may not share either your humor or perspective.
On the job (and in job search) it is always better to demonstrate the language and attitudes that are prevalent in that environment. No matter the setting, always try to behave professionally, courteously and sensitively. With that combination you can’t go too far!
For more information on job search and career development, and navigating political correctness in your job or job search, please search this blog and visit: hanklondon.com or contact me.