I was teaching a business writing workshop recently when someone teased another participant about being a Southerner (someone from the Southern part of the United States). The seemingly good-natured wisecracks were about Southern food and language. I stopped the comments politely by bringing us back to the business writing skill we were discussing.
On our class break I happened to be alone in the break room with the person who was the target of the teasing. I had forgotten the incident, but he told me that he was sick of being teased about being a Southerner. He said people regularly made jokes about his Southern accent, the words he used, the foods he liked, and other aspects of Southern culture. He felt they implied that Southerners were stupid.
I bet the person who made light of Southern cuisine and language would be shocked to know he was causing his coworker's pain. He was just joking, right?
Could you or someone on your team be the joker causing pain? We often don't think about Southerners, Easterners, Midwesterners, Europeans, men, women, mothers, baby-boomers, and others as people who might not enjoy our teasing. But if others are making the same kinds of remarks, our coworkers may feel badgered, bruised, or betrayed.
This blog is about business writing, so how can I tie this important topic to writing? Well, I am certain that teasing happens in writing too. Here are some guidelines to consider:
- Avoid making generalizations or suggestions about a group or type of employees, such as "The engineers on this project are a bunch of nerds" or "You know those Gen Yers think they know how to do everything."
- Never make up or use a nickname that might be considered a slur. Use only nicknames people have chosen for themselves, and use them only with permission.
- When someone says a comment is not funny to them (in person or in writing), believe them. It's not funny. It's hurtful.
Please add more guidelines or examples. I would especially like ideas about "joking" and writing.