While reviewing a recent article about the future of offices, by my colleague Russ Norton, a particular comment he made around managing uncertainty stood out to me: ‘Don’t refer to the current situation as ‘the new normal’...’
As a D&I professional, Russ’ lens is trained firmly on calling out behaviours and practices which could prove to be exclusionary or harmful. This particular phrase, argues Russ, falls firmly into that second category.
"We’re still in the midst of a pandemic and facing challenges we’ve never had to before. The idea that should be ‘normal’ is angst-inducing for many. ‘The new normal’ will be what comes after lockdown restrictions are lifted."
Checking myself, I had to admit that I'd been swept up in our new 'unprecedented' pandemic lingo, not considering the stealthy insidiousness of the language that has crept into our lockdown lives. I asked the team for their thoughts on how what we’re saying right now is having an impact.
"It might be August before we're out." "I heard Christmas!" This kind of overblowing, doom-and-gloom spreading, toxic language makes me feel queasy when I hear it. It's already interminable. Don't give me even a suggestion of calendar timings. You don't know and nobody else does. So pipe down.”
“A lot of the language has lost its meaning because it's become cliché already. "Challenging", "difficult", "unprecedented" – just parroted out so much that at this point they are no more than buzzwords and white noise.”
“For me, it's about tone. When we're talking about something as serious as this pandemic, it's easy to slip back into that very official 'corporate-speak', using passive sentences such as 'Colleagues will be informed' or 'It was decided by the committee'. Now's not the time for that. Authority and reassurance don’t come from big words that people might not even understand, or long-winded sentences. They come from sharing our humanity. So don't be afraid to write 'We'll let you know' or 'The committee decided X because Y'. This is the time for clarity, directness and warmth.”
“I think we should avoid saying things like, "we're in the same boat" when trying to empathise with others. Saying things like that runs the risk of trivialising any difficulties they might be facing or trying to deal with. Everyone is facing very different individual challenges at this time and dealing with them as best they can (or not). Everyone has something different in their boat. And everyone's boat is different. Some people may be in yachts and others might feel like they're on a floating log, trying to hang on. We need to be mindful of the language we use when empathising with others. While we might all be on the same river, we're not necessarily in the same boat.”
What words and phrases have frustrated you during the last few months? We'd love to hear your thoughts, tweet us @scarlettabbott.