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The words we use say so much about us

I was with a group online recently working through leading inclusive teams. We got talking about calling in (asking questions about what's behind someone's non-inclusive comments and behaviour) and calling out (stating clearly a comment or behaviour is inappropriate).

The conversation turned to how to use language. As I was in our office, James Pennebaker's book, The Secret Lives of Pronouns was to hand and I quoted from it. (It's a great and well-researched book about what you can tell about how we use language. And it's fabulous!)

We talked about how men and women use different language.

Men use more big words, nouns, propositions, numbers, words per sentence and swear words. Women use more personal pronouns, verbs, negative emotions, negations (no, never, not), certainly words and hedge phrases (I think, I believe).

And it was this last point that was particularly relevant. If women hedge more, does that mean their ideas aren't communicated with as much certainty? One way to find out is to actively listen in meetings for hedges.

We also talked through counting contributions in meetings. Who speaks most? Does everyone have a say? Well, count and see and listen to hedges.

It's always great when the conversation takes a generative turn - it certainly did that day.


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