Language and Creating a Positive Workplace Culture

July 3, 2023
Two women in hallway talking

"Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing."

This statement struck me as being so true in many ways during our day to day lives, in our jobs, and in our personal lives.

So, whatever you are not changing you are choosing… read that again... if we choose to ignore something or not challenge it professionally, we are demonstrating that we are choosing or supporting that culture.

This got me thinking about one of the very common things we come across in training, The, sometimes negative, language we hear in our training rooms.

I once asked a person who supported young people why they referred to children as “kicking off”.

Distressed behaviour

I was told that it was how young people referred to the situations when someone becomes distressed.

But we are the professionals. By using negative terms (which are often very subjective and don’t represent what form the behaviour took) we align with the assumption that somehow ‘kicking off’ is the young person’s choice, or that they choose to behave in a certain way.

Often the language we hear is learned from other staff members and becomes perpetuated unless someone challenges it.

As professionals and workplace trainers we are in a perfect position to effect a change in language and ultimately the culture of the organisation we work for.

Allow me to consider the impact of language on organisations and how professional language supports consistency and culture.

Firstly, we risk dehumanising people if we identify them by their behaviours.

Dehumanisation is the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities.

For example, the “biter in room 4” becomes known, not for all their other positive personal attributes, but for their negative behaviour.

See the whole person

This can create a situation where we only see the behaviour and not the whole person and this isn’t a person-centred approach.

Better explained perhaps, by defining the opposite of ‘dehumanisation’, which is ‘empathy’.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Now I am prompted to consider that a behaviour results from feelings, from fear and from distress.

I start to see biting as a sign that this person is distressed and communicating that distress to me in the only way they know how.

I can now see the person and potential trauma they may have been exposed to.

My language becomes even more important to avoid re-traumatisation or adding to that trauma.

So, what benefits can we expect to see from using positive professional language?

Therapeutic relationships

Positive language helps to build and repair therapeutic relationships between staff and the individuals we support.

It conveys empathy at a time that is most confusing and distressing for a person.

From an organisational perspective, professional language helps build a positive culture.
It promotes consistency in reporting and documentation throughout.
For staff, using positive and professional language helps achieve professional and regulatory standards. It strengthens staff values and makes those values visible to others.
As a final note, we get the framework for our positive language from our professional standards.
At CPI, we also learn it from our training materials; a language that lends itself to all disciplines, all age groups and all types of service provider.
So, do we choose to ignore negative language, or can we change it?

I believe there are benefits for the individuals who use our service, for the organisation and for the staff.

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