Social motives are what drive people's thinking, feeling, and behavior in their interactions with others. Witty flags language that celebrates self-advancement, reframes the workplace as a theater of war, or presents an assertive and competitive mindset as vital to any form of success.
Language that puts I over we or perpetuates success strategies traditionally associated with masculinity and male leadership are more likely to resonate with men. At the same time, this language tends to put off marginalized genders, women, people with a collaborative mindset, and younger audiences. Studies suggest these groups tend to prefer words and phrases from the communal and inclusive end of the language spectrum.
With green highlighting, Witty raises awareness for language that communicates an appreciation for connection, collaboration, community, belonging, and emotional safety.
Slurs + hate speech
🚫 Offensive language
Don't use foul language. Using offensive language can be subject to legal – or disciplinary – action.
If you tend to use foul language to express anger or frustration, take a moment to step back and look at your cursing from the perspective of people around you. Using offensive language not only shapes how others see you professionally but also creates an abusive atmosphere.
Offensive words are calculated to wound, upset, anger, intimidate, or embarrass. And that’s how your audience is likely to read them, even when you curse in jest. Offensive language can constitute bullying or harassment – verbal, physical, social, or psychological abuse. Those who witness foul language go unchecked may read this as a signal that their shared environment is permissive toward abusive behavior.
😒 Agentic language
To reach out to team-minded people, use words that put cooperation, collaboration, connection, and a shared purpose first.
As we grow up, we learn to associate words like take charge, determined, or outperforming with men, power, and the pursuit of personal success. These words are called agentic. They put self-advancement over collaboration. But women and Generation Z are socialized to value collaboration. By avoiding agentic words, you help build an environment where all genders and ages feel they can thrive.
To show you are a credible voice, stay factual and use specific language to present ideas and arguments.
The best! The greatest! Loud messages are everywhere. We’re led to believe that joining the loud crowd will let us reach and convince readers. True, exaggeration grabs attention. It’s also likely to damage our credibility. Social-media savvy Generation Z is especially quick to see through over-the-top claims. Keeping our messaging honest and straightforward helps people build trust and identify us as a reliable source.
🪖 Military-inspired lingo
A military-inspired lingo is part of business communications in many organisations. While many terms favored in business are more inspired by movies about war than the reality of military life, this jargon is associated with a historically almost exclusively masculine environment. As such, it perpetuates a culture of masculinity that subtly prevents women from joining conversations in the workplace. Studies show we have different expectations for how men and women should communicate. Women who adopt more aggressive masculine speech patterns, such as military jargon, are perceived less favorably by their colleagues than women who conform to feminine speech patterns. Moreover, many people do not feel comfortable with the aggressive undertones of military lingo, regardless of gender.
🏅 Sports terms
Metaphors taken from the world of sports have become a mainstay of business communication, especially in messages aiming to motivate. Framing business interactions as a sport often overemphasizes their competitive aspects. While this communication style may resonate with people who share your love of the game, others may feel you're trivializing the complexity of doing business, or feel you don't value more collaborative mindsets.
Apart from the competitive aspect, there are gender biases to consider. Many of the sports referenced in business environments are traditionally male-dominated. Using sports terms can subtly signal a preference for a business world where people who identify as female have no place.
Last not least, when using terms related to a specific sport only those familiar with that exact sport will get your point.
✅ Communal language
Use communal words to signal you value an environment where everyone can get involved and thrive.
Growing up, we learn to associate words like supportive or caring with women, emotional connection, and the joint pursuit of shared goals. We call these words communal. They resonate with people who grew up to value collaborative thinking, such as Generation Z and most who identify as female. The complexity of today’s business models and workplaces makes collaborative thinking a vital quality. Communal language gives you a win-win tool for nurturing inclusion and staff efficiency: It invites in community-driven people but doesn’t turn off people who won’t use communal words themselves.
To help build acceptance and empathy, use a shared vocabulary in conversations around DEIB.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, DEIB for short, stand at the heart of a lively dialog that is broad and growing. Engaging people in meaningful DEIB conversations can drive empathy in an organization. It can raise awareness and garner support for an accepting and welcoming workplace. Building a common vocabulary around DEIB and feeling at home with DEIB concepts, helps avoid confusion and misunderstandings in conversations. And it can effect positive change.
✅ Positive emotions
Feelings, and the words that describe them, are indicators. They communicate whether our needs are met or whether we trust our needs will be met. Communicating how we feel about something is a powerful way to connect with our experience and with the people who interact with us. Sharing how we feel helps improve a team's well-being and builds emotional trust. When someone emotionally trusts you, they know you have their back and treat them with respect.