I recently led a business communications class for a group of global executives in Seattle, Washington. Many of them spoke English as a second, third, or fourth language. When I asked them about their learning goals, several mentioned wanting to communicate more effectively with subordinates.
Here is a way to instantly improve that communication: Stop calling them “subordinates.” In the United States, the word subordinate has a negative connotation. It communicates the idea of someone who is “less than.” Although “subordinates” do by definition have a job that is smaller than that of their manager, suggesting that they are “less than” belittles their contribution.
Another term to avoid is “people under me,” which paints the wrong picture and hints vaguely at scandalous behavior.
These are good alternatives for “subordinates” and “people under me”: employees, staff, team, team members, teammates, workers, assistants, associates, and individual contributors. Another excellent option is to use people’s job titles.
In your English-speaking country, which terms do you use? Are “subordinates” and “people under me” acceptable terms? Please share your views. You can help communicators around the globe learn from your experience and achieve their communication goals.