Language Matters Today More Than Ever

By Jenn Elting, Senior Public Information Specialist, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

On October 19, members of PRSA’s Greater Cleveland Chapter had the privilege of learning from Dr. Tameka Taylor, CEO of Compass Consulting Services, LLC. Her program, “Language Matters: Communicating Effectively and Respectfully with Diverse Audiences,” not only examined the business case for diversity in the workplace, but examined language and its impact on others.

“There are very tough judgement calls when communicating with stakeholders,” said Taylor. “If you question ‘what’ or ‘how’ to say something, ask someone.”

She explained that 90 percent of the times language goes wrong, the person is well-intentioned. “Step back and think,” said Taylor.

One famous example is the verbiage used to caption two photos taken during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Associated Press used the word “looting” to describe one photo, whereas AFP/Getty Images used “finding.” Can you identify why these word choices might be problematic?

It is critical that you not only look at your perspective, but what is the perspective of others, cautioned Taylor. She said that is natural for us to base decisions and ideas on preconceived notions.

“Diversity is so much more than we often think,” said Taylor. Especially when hiring in our workplaces. “As much as I like ‘me,’ I don’t need a bunch of ‘mini-mes’ floating around.”

Diversity can be internal and includes things that neither change nor tend not to change, such as race, gender, physical ability and age. Diversity can also include external factors which do change. External dimensions include marital status, income, educational background, religion/spirituality and appearance, along with other factors.

She concluded with a great discussion about words that cause anger among the audience, as well as examples of today’s preferred terminology. She added that our terminology is not about being correct, but more about how the words we choose impact our stakeholders.

“The impact outweighs the intention of what you write,” said Taylor.

Join PRSA Cleveland for “Expand Your Network Night” on Thursday, November 16, 2017, at Market Garden Brewery. We will hear from Marilee MacAskill about effective networking strategies and tips for maintaining conversations with strangers. More info about this great program, and many others, is available here.

Public Relations Society of America, Greater Cleveland Chapter