You’re building a strong, collaborative team. You’re infusing fun and excitement into your culture. You believe in mutual respect for all people. But sometimes a little forgetfulness or a bad habit can undermine your efforts. What if you’re sending the wrong message?
I am the worst at remembering names. I’ll admit that. And I think I’m not the only one. So how can something unintentional be disrespectful? When you don’t bother. When you don’t care. When you remember the names of everyone in the C-Suite but can’t remember the name of the receptionist you see every day or the person who runs your payroll. Be careful that your forgetfulness doesn’t draw a line between those you deem important and those who are beneath you.
Do you work in HR or manage people? Another way your name forgetfulness is sending signals of disrespect is by misspelling or mispronouncing names. Now I know, some names are tough. My step-sister-in-law’s last name is 11 letters long. So I get it. But her name is her name. It’s disrespectful to get it wrong. Take the time to ask about pronunciation and spelling and practice it. It actually means quite a lot for those hard to pronounce names when someone makes the effort to get it right.
We all know that unflattering, hurtful nicknames should be saved for enemies and siblings, and never used in the workplace. But have you stopped to think about “Mike” and “Alex” and “Liz?” There are so many common nicknames out there that it’s easy to slip into one when you hear a common name. They’re shorter, they’re easier to remember, and they roll off the tongue. The thing is, you can’t assume it’s okay just because it’s common. Always ask before using a nickname. If someone introduces themselves by their nickname, that’s okay too.
This is a habit to drop. Don’t assume a wedding ring means someone has a husband rather than a wife. Whether you live in California or the rural Midwest, that assumption can cause real workplace damage. It may seem harmless, but the isolation and unwelcomeness it causes can turn a warm company culture into something cold and hostile.
This applies even if you have heard the person’s name. First, many names are both male and female. Second, the name of a person does not indicate their gender identity. You’re assigning your own gendered expectations to the other person. Until you have met their partner or heard them use gendered language themselves, it’s best to keep it neutral. Need some gender-neutral terminology to get started?
- Spouse, partner, significant other – used to refer to the person who is in a romantic relationship with the person you’re talking to. For example, “Does your partner like spaghetti?”
- They, them – used to refer to a person other than the person you’re talking to directly. For example, “Do they like spaghetti?”
- The person’s name! – for example, “Does Alex like spaghetti?”
I like spaghetti.
Think about your body language and your actions. When you’re listening to someone do you face them? Do you make eye contact? Or do you look down at your phone? Do you check your Apple watch? When you join a meeting do you listen, engage, take notes and ask questions? Or, do you open up your laptop and continue your deskwork like there’s no one else there? Maybe you think you’re being efficient or that you’re multitasking. What it looks like to everyone else is that you believe you’re the only one who’s busy. The only one with anything important to do. And honestly, if you can’t get your other work done outside the meeting, you should probably reschedule.
So you’re getting all your work done and paying attention in meetings. Great. But are you respecting your coworker’s work priorities? Take a look at what they’re doing. If they’re in the middle of typing or answering a call, doing detail-work or focusing hard, now is not the time to interrupt.
- Ask them to “Let me know when you have a moment.”
- Let them know “I have a question about/problem with such and such when you have time.”
- Let them know what you need in an email. If it’s urgent, say so.
- Look at their calendar and send them a meeting invite.
If it’s something already on their radar, like a client issue they needed to hear back about, they may be perfectly happy to stop what their doing. But if it’s something on your plate that you need some help/clarity on, don’t assume it’s as urgent to them as it is to you. And if you have to wait, find something else to do.
Have any of these happened to you? Does your workplace set an example of mutual respect? Share in the comments below.
—Written by Nina Ottman
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