Guys, Mind Your Language

We use some crazy language in our working lives. I’ve often been told over the years that a particular task is ‘not rocket science’. I dare suggest that these days rocket science is not much of a mystery, but the phrase is still common. What someone is really saying to you of course is that ‘this is a fairly simple task Craig, and you are way overcomplicating it’. Similarly, if someone says to you ‘with respect’ or even worse ‘with the utmost respect’ you know they think that you are an anachronistic old fool who has seen better days.

But the one that has always irked me the most is ‘half pregnant’. A man (and it is always a man – I’ve never heard it come from the mouth of a woman) will say to their audience ‘well we can’t be half pregnant’ or ‘you can’t be half pregnant’. The metaphor is meant to explain that we either need to be ‘all in’ or ‘all out’, that there is no middle ground.

This is a misuse on many levels. Firstly, to my knowledge, a man has never been and will never be pregnant. So, what can a man say about what it is like being pregnant – half, quarter, full or otherwise? Would a woman liken a work issue to having ‘erectile dysfunction’? Possibly, but I don’t think so. 

Secondly, being pregnant is a very emotional and personal time in a woman’s life. Hence, likening something so amazing to a (usually) insignificant work issue is a total nonsense and just lazy thinking. 

Thirdly, it is plain insensitive. Do you know whether or not there is a woman in your team/audience with a terrible history of miscarriage? Or has had to have a tragic abortion? Or whether there is a guy who is going through hell with IVF because he can’t conceive with his partner? 

Now I know some are reading this and saying to themselves “It is just a harmless phrase; no offence is intended”. It is true that offence is very rarely intended, but it is not harmless. What using phrases like this does is distracts the listener away from what you are saying and puts them in another space. Pregnancy invokes an emotion – one way or another – and so it is very likely that whatever you say after ‘half pregnant’ is not listened to anyway. Therefore, it is harmful – harmful to you, and possibly harmful to your listeners. 

Let’s talk about pregnancy when we want to talk about pregnancy, not when we are talking about work. Removing this entirely from our lexicon will help us be more inclusive as well be more effective communicators. 

PS. There are many alternatives. Try:

“We need 100% commitment on this…”

“We’re either on the dancefloor or we aren’t…”

“There is no grey here – its either black or white…”

And so on…You can do it…