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Language at work: Avoiding harmful and condescending comments in your business

May 27, 2016

Language in the workplace, especially between colleagues and team members, performs an important role in determining what is acceptable behaviour, and ultimately, what the broader workplace environment looks like.

In many workplaces, it is unfortunate that condescending and patronising language can be an all-too-frequent occurrence.

In many instances, a capable and competent team member will be interrupted by a peer or manager who will explain a workplace procedure, or describe a product feature, which the team member already has knowledge of, or understands in some detail.

While the intent may be well-meaning, if not done without thinking of how it may be perceived, for those that are the target of condescending language it can be annoying, insulting and in extreme circumstances, demeaning and humiliating.

Considering how language may influence the culture and environment of your workplace should not be viewed as an exercise to protect the feelings of colleagues, but rather an opportunity for all staff to reflect on how their behaviour may impact, and potentially embarrass, people that work in their team, and the broader culture of where they work.

Indeed, occupational psychologists highlight how condescending and patronising language can quickly shift productive and creative workplace conversations into something destructive – not just to the individuals involved, but workplace processes in general.

Some common examples of condescending language, which can be heard in workplaces, include the following:

• We already thought of that;
• So what you’re trying to say is…;
• Let me put this in terms that will be easy for you to understand;
• I know what you’re thinking;
• Oh, you just figured that out?

In the workplace, anyone can engage in this type of language, and it is important to recognise it when it occurs, and address the potential implication of that language with team members.

The National Retail Association endorses regular education of employees in relation to how their behaviour and language can impact the workplace, and how businesses can address and respond to these issue in the workplace.

For further information on this issue, and how your business can address, and respond to issues of workplace culture, please contact NRA Legal on 1800 738 245.

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