Language matters

or the words you use have impact

Do you spend any time thinking about the words you use? How they may change the perceived meaning of what you’re trying to say? Do you take ownership or redirect blame?

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Let’s explore an example

You are a backend developer. You have just completed a new endpoint, your colleague is going to implement the frontend work for this now. He points out that the requirements are not quite met yet. So you commit to fix the issues the next day. During the standup the following day you are describing you tasks for the day and you say: “My colleague wanted some changes in the new endpoint, which I’m getting to later”. A seemingly innocent way of describing your workload for the day. But could it have been said in another way? Something like: “I’m finishing up the new enpoint, I had missed some requirements”.

Do you see the difference? In one example you are putting the responsibility on your colleague whom pointed out the mistakes, and in the other you take ownership of the mistake.

Another example

You are now about to develop another endpoint, but this time the requirements are unclear and unfinished. This prompts you ask your colleague for their opinion on some of this, since they’re going to develop the frontend for this. They give you some tips on how the frontend might use the data, and suggest some datastructures. At the next standup you are describing your workload for the day, this time you say: “My colleague wants this data in the endpoint so I’m working on that today”. Again you pushed away the responsibility on your colleague.

Why does it matter?

It does seem a little petty to focus so much on how someone presents things. But imagine being the colleague in both those instances, they think they were helping a colleague do their best work. If this language is used everytime they lift an issue or suggest improvements, it will always seem like they are the reason something is taking longer than expected and not that you missed something or are changing something for the better.

It’s exhausting, trust me.

In a team it is up to everyone to make sure the product is the best it can be, and if one or more team members are constantly deflecting the responsibility, are they really part of the team?

// Jæder

Written by

Mpya Digital is an IT consultancy in Stockholm, Sweden. It is an organization made by — and continuously improved by — the people in it.

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