Words matter. You can argue “people are too sensitive” or “we shouldn’t have to worry so much about being politically correct,” but we don’t know the personal experiences that shaped someone’s view of the world.
Hurting people is not worth our right to speak thoughtlessly.
Make the effort to be considerate in speech. You will be more likeable, professional, and interesting.
Intent vs Impact
There is a difference between intent and impact. Just because we didn’t intend to cause harm, doesn’t mean the impact of our words wasn’t harmful.
Good people with good intentions hurt other people every day. Understanding and awareness of sensitive areas will garner respect and be a refreshing change from the usual.
1. Don’t Say, “Lighten Up”
Saying it was “just a joke,” “they didn’t mean anything by it,” or “lighten up” invalidates the feelings of someone who has been hurt. First you make an inappropriate remark or joke, then you insult them again for not laughing at your ignorance.
Don’t be defensive if you’re called out. Say you’re sorry.
2. Don’t Say, “Can’t”
Adopt a growth mindset over a fixed one. Believe that you can change and grow and improve. If you do say “can’t,” follow it with “yet.”
3. Don’t Laugh
An 11 year old explained her invention to improve water testing on the show Good Morning America. Inspiration came because she saw her parents’ difficulty with testing water after witnessing the Flint, Michigan water crisis.
This is a brilliant young lady. She spoke above my head and the hosts of the show. I was disheartened for her when the hosts laughed.
Don’t laugh at children because they’re smarter than you or use big words. A sensitive child won’t speak up next time. Their self-esteem is developing. It is delicate. Build them up and ideas will keep coming.
Similarly with adults, if you call someone’s idea stupid or you laugh, next time they’ll keep their mouth shut. Encourage conversation by thanking others for their contribution even if it is beyond your understanding or even if it really isn’t a good idea.
4. Don’t Swear
My mother is the most patient woman I know. Having 7 kids, she had to be. I remember a time when we really pushed her buttons. We did everything we could to get on her nerves. It was then that I saw her most upset.
Mom lost her temper, raised her arms, brought them down again, and said, “Gosh darnit all!” We fell instantly silent in shock. She could’ve said every banned word on the FCC list, but she didn’t. Words have power. They lose their power with overuse. Save powerful words for when they’re really called for.
5. Don’t Say, “I know exactly how you feel.”
You don’t. Hopefully you know better than to say this when someone loses a loved one. Even in small things, we don’t understand. For example, your coworker of Middle Eastern descent tells you about a TSA search. They felt it was racial profiling. You tell them about the time you, a white person, got searched. It’s not the same thing.
A better bet would be to listen. Ask how they felt. Ask if this kind of thing happens often.
6. Don’t use Filler Words
Um, uh, ah, like, you know what I mean, ain’ so, and um, and you know mean nothing. They make you sound less confident in the least, and unintelligent in extreme cases.
7. Don’t use Extreme Words
Unless your office burns to the ground, it is probably not the “worst” or a “disaster.” “If all else fails,” is extreme, too. If ALL else fails, you’re not going to care about how this project goes. At the end of the day, it’s just a job, it’s just work.
8. Don’t use Definitives
Words like always and never are rarely true. Save them for when you really mean them.
9. Slang, Jargon, and Regional Words
Slang might put you in a group you don’t want to be in. Jargon excludes people. Regional word shut out the rest of the world. I edited a book for a friend. He used the word “bubbler.” Unless you live in Wisconsin, you wouldn’t know what was meant. Elsewhere, it would be a drinking fountain.
Build your Vocabulary
Fifty words separate a mundane vocabulary from a well-respected one. Using curse words implies our vocabulary is limited. If you learn one new word a week you’ll take your vocabulary to the next level in about a year.
What can you do to present yourself as a sensitive, interesting, and intelligent individual? Get out of your comfort zone. Learn something new.
My grandma gave me the best advice on the subject. She said to learn something new every day. You’ll always have an answer to, “What’s new?” and “What do you know?”