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"The Salt" (Blog)

Exercise: Limiting Possessive Pronouns When Talking About People

There was a point in our history when the ownership of a person or people was widely accepted. We called it slavery. These days, for most of us, the practice of slavery has been abolished in practice but is alive and well in our language. Possessive pronouns are used to describe a specific noun (person/thing, in this case) belonging to another noun (person/thing). When you are speaking with someone about a person or making an introduction for person, take a look at the words you are using.

Example: “Jane, CEO of Change Makers” says: Hi Tom, this is my intern, Melissa. She works for me part-time at my company. I would be lost without her.”

Notice the amount of personal pronouns used in this example. There’s a total of 4. Now we’ll take a closer look, sentence by sentence. Sentence 1: “Hi Tom, this is my intern, Melissa.” What is wrong here? Jane does not own Melissa. In an employment relationship, the employer is paying for the person’s time and ability, not the person. Sentence 2: “She works for me part-time at my company.” What is wrong here? Melissa does not work for Jane, she works with her. Melissa works for the company, Change Makers and in this example, Melissa and Jane actually work together. Final Sentence: “I would be lost without her.” Anything wrong here? Jane, CEO is attempting to finish Melissa’s introduction with a compliment but only after calling attention to herself in the sentences prior to the compliment. Although this introduction seeks to introduce Melissa as a great asset to Jane and her company, it‘s probably missing the mark with Melissa. It may also be perceived as an insult to Melissa. 

Now let’s remove some of the personal pronouns: “Jane, CEO of Change Maker” says: Hi Tom, let me introduce you to Melissa. She is working part-time at Change Makers; we’d be lost without her.” 

Notice a difference? Let’s take a look. Sentence 1: “Hi Tom, let me introduce you to Melissa.” What do you notice? Immediately, this introduction allows Melissa the opportunity to be acknowledged and gives her the floor to speak for herself if she should choose to. Sentence 2 and Final: “She is working part-time at Change Makers; we’d be lost without her.” The final two sentences of this introduction humanize the relationship and accurately depict the scenario. With an accurate picture portrayed, there is nothing standing in the way of the compliment being received. At the very least, this version of the introduction certainly sounds more positive. Instead of it being about Jane, CEO, this version of the introduction is all about Melissa and the role/significance she plays for Jane and Change Makers.  

This brief exercise seeks to enlighten you on your language choices in all aspects of life but uses the workplace as an example. Your word choices along with accurate descriptions are important when communicating effectively and creating and sustaining positive relationships. This requires deliberate effort. It’s truly important to acknowledge those you work with for who they are and what their contributing role is accurately in order to avoid unnecessary problems and confusion.

“He who has let go of hatred, who treats all beings with kindness and compassion, who is always serene, unmoved by pain and pleasure, free of the “I” and “mine,” self-controlled, firm and patient, his whole mind focused on me- that man is the one I love best.”-The Bhagavad Gita, 12.13-14

Tyrone RobinsonComment