Workplace communication should prioritise ‘people first’ language


This guide outlines why ‘people first’ language is so important for workplace communication and culture. We’ve come a long way in terms of building healthy workplaces that not only accept differences, but also appreciate and find the good in the uniqueness each person brings along with them.

For years, workplace communication and culture meant shedding who you are individually and simply putting on a mask. However, people have started to realize that this not only stumps creativity but may also be toxic in a lot of ways, though the immediate damages are invisible. The good thing is that this is quickly changing, and employers are striving to build a work environment which is not simply tolerable but actually healthy, engaging, and fun to be in.

One of the best approaches they’ve taken is to build a space that practices equality and respect in everything, starting with the language and words used in workplace communication to refer to and address individuals. 

In this blog, we’re going to walk you through the ‘people first’ approach that language has taken, and why this is important in building a healthy workplace. Let’s get started!

What is ‘people first’ language in workplace communication?

For those of you who have never heard of this before, you may be wondering, “what is people first language?” In its simplest sense for workplace communication, people first language is an approach that focuses on acknowledging that a person is more than an adjective that’s used to describe their identity.

The reason this first began is because of labels that were assigned to specific groups of people, which eventually made them seem like they were nothing more than the adjective used to describe them. This not only makes the person’s entire identity focused on just one aspect of them that is physically visible, but also gives room for biased views, ideologies, and discrimination to seep through. 

To explain it better, people who suffer from physical or mental disabilities used to be described or referred to in workplace communication as a person with that disability – for instance, “He is an autistic person”. Instead, saying something like “He is someone who is autistic” prioritizes his personhood over the other aspects used to describe major parts of his identity. 

Why is it important in the workplace?

A place of employment is where people need to be treated equally, even if they are different from the rest of the crowd. By using language that categorizes them negatively while stripping them of all their individuality, you may unintentionally downgrade them or make them feel like they are nothing more than a person who is “different”.

Instead, you can completely get rid of this risk by simply interchanging the way you speak in a way that’s more mindful in workplace communication. While doing so, you acknowledge that the person is different because of “this” and this” reason, but you also don’t make it seem like their entire identity is based around that particular aspect or characteristic of them. 

Some of the benefits of this is that it makes people feel more welcome and seen, and they don’t feel the need to prove that they are more than what they have been described as. It also removes the possibility of stigmatization and makes everyone gain a sense of equality and justice. 

How can this be practiced?

While everyone can make mistakes sometimes, especially since not everyone is familiar with such an approach, it’s best to take some time to retrain your employees to think and speak this way whenever possible in workplace communication.This way, you remove the chances of accidents happening more frequently, while also getting a chance to educate and enlighten your employees on the need for equal and inclusive language in the workplace. 

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