“You guys” is Not Acceptable Business Communication

We recently attended an educational event by a non-profit we joined this year. It was clear that the speaker knew her subject well. Ever-critical me was distracted throughout by the number of “ums” and “ehs” populating her speech. Those fillers were bad enough. What was worse? She continually spoke to this audience of affluent Pittsburghers (the majority beyond our financial stratosphere) and said, “You guys.” 

Saying “you guys” wasn’t a one-time slip of the tongue. It wasn’t an error a Millennial could make and get away with. No, it was a too-oft repeated aberration of the all inclusive and completely proper, “You.”

It was horrifying. Especially with her introduction resounding in my ears—she was a PhD.

Once, I had two co-workers twenty and thirty years younger than me. This mad for a wonderful, diverse work approach. I am a Baby Boomer—old school. S is a balanced, highly professional, Gen Xer. J approached everything with the true enthusiasm of a Millennial. We were a marvelous team.

They have taken to calling me the Word Nazi. I think this is a compliment. 

Business Communication Shows Others Who We Are

I am one of the most casual speakers I know. Having lived throughout the US, I’ve incorporated Western PA, Central PA, Ohio, Los Angeles, and Montana into my speech. It cannot be helped. I fight hard to keep the Pittsburghese at bay. My body shudders each time I hear, “youins” and “youse guys” from an otherwise intelligent individual. “Worschington” spills from someone’s mouth and I cringe. I could never understand why my very well-read Mother insisted on pronouncing it that instead of Washington. Perhaps the little imp did it to drive me over the brink.

Reading Expands Our Abilities to Communicate

Preston/Child Pendergast novels have me constantly using the Kindle dictionary or keeping old hard-backed Webster on hand. They use words I don’t know and thousands more I’ll never learn—which I accept with reluctance. I think of the Malcolm X story where, in jail, this uneducated man copied the dictionary again and again. He became one of our country’s most powerful speakers. Of course, I like that the story ends with him using those words for good and not inflammatory purposes.

But back to me. I’ve been known to utter “you guys” upon occasion. In a family group or one of close friends, I might let it slip out. But never, ever in business. “You” suffices fine to refer to a group of people. 

I’ve ranted any number of times about a server in a nice restaurant walking up and saying, “How’re you guys?” Alex cringes as I look myself over and decide, yes, I am still a woman. If we’re in a pizza joint, I don’t get as upset at this greeting, although I still think it’s inappropriate. I want to leave cards behind stating, “Your tip would have been bigger if you hadn’t called me a guy.” Think that would make them think?

Kill the Fillers in Your Business Communication

How to avoid the distracting, ums, ers, and slips of you guys? Practice eliminating them—and practice more. If you’re preparing to give a presentation, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. I always had a huge fear of public speaking. When I first tasked myself with becoming a trainer, I had to get over that. First step? Practicing a 6-hour program for over 60 hours. In front of a mirror; recorded on video. I critiqued, memorized, and pounded the “ums” out of my speech.

Do I lapse? Of course. Out of that role, I fall on my evil old ways from time to time. The young woman I referenced at the start of this tirade spoke to a group of over one hundred people. I don’t think she prepared for that and it showed.

Watch Excellent Business Communicators

During my HR career, I fortunately saw several fantastic speakers at conferences. One who resounds is Sydney Poitier. He spoke for well over 45 minutes. Eloquent and clear, Mr. Poitier delivered a great message with nary a filler word to be found. Intrigued by him, I bought, This Life, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. It is an incredible memoir.  Mr. Poitier’s speech stuck with me because of the content and his lack of “ums.” (Note: Since drafting this blog, Mr. Poitier has passed away. A great loss to our country. I urge you to read his memoirs and watch his films. And think.)

While Freedom Writers teacher Erin Gruwell and Breaking Night author Liz Murray* told compelling stories, they were poor speakers. They were ill prepared to the point of making me cringe for them. That was so many years ago that I hope they have received presentation training by now.

Some of Us Communicate Better in Writing

And that would be me. I am a much better writer than I am a speaker. Put on the spot by a challenging question, I immediately go into pause and think mode. My brain ponders possible answers, weighs them out, assessing. Do I mean what I’m about to say? Will it answer the asker’s question? Needing to provide on the spot answers is agony for me.

Business communications are best thought-through
I’m always pondering my words

As a writer, I get to spill this blog off in one sitting and then spend the next two days rewriting it. Editing and editing again, I critique before launching it into the world. I get to make sure there are no illiterate pauses in it. (And yet, Jackie will find a typo. Go figure!)

Practice Being Effective at Business Communications

In our speech, we have to start practicing right now to eliminate things like “you guys” from our language. We have such a short amount of time to attract people. We don’t want to distract listeners from our message. Whether we’re in a room of patrons, a CEO meeting, or hanging out with your friends—speak to be heard. If you start changing your language, it may trickle through to those around you and change them as well.

Your ranting redheaded writer,

(*NOTE: See these TED talks with Ms. Gruwell and Ms. Murray. They are much improved speakers.)

Read, Appropriate Attire