You have read and heard statements like these at work:
“I’ll ask the guys on my team to work on that feature.”
“We need to get a top-notch guy in here to fill that role.”
“Let me know how you guys are doing.”
Barbara wrote to ask my opinion on guys used for groups that include women and guy used for an unknown individual. She shared the examples above.
Communication involves both the sender and the receiver of the message. The sender may intend guys to refer to everyone in a group. In fact, guys can mean “members of a group regardless of sex” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. But the receiver may interpret guys to mean men.
Because guys may miscommunicate or even cause bad feelings depending on the situation, it makes sense to use a different word. Why use a risky word when other words can communicate your meaning safely?
Alternatives to guys are you, anyone, everybody, team, people, individuals, and all depending on the situation and sentence. “You” can easily replace “You guys” although “you guys” does clearly indicate more than one, which “you” alone does not.
Yes, I recommend that we cut guys from our written messages when we mean a mixed group or a group of women. And we should not use guy when we mean “someone.” Cutting those words from our writing makes sense because other words are more precise. Also, we cannot know whether guys and guy may exclude or offend a reader. For example, a woman in a group of mostly male software engineers or firefighters may feel like a misfit when messages use “you guys.”
Taking that step should be easy, especially since grammar and spelling checkers flag the use of guys and guy. For this blog post, my Microsoft grammar and spelling checker set on Grammar &Style (not Grammar Only) recommended people and person for every guys and guy I used.
Speech may be more challenging since we don’t have a grammar checker to flag words before they come out of our mouths, and the informal “you guys” may be a longstanding habit. If you want to eliminate guys in situations where it may not belong, you might try a sign on the bulletin board above your desk with the reminder “You guys.” You can also add a reminder to your smart phone or tablet.
Does it make sense to avoid using guy and guys in business communication? Yes, it makes sense if the use may offend or leave out someone.
But what about the situation captured in the photo above, with Lynn Sherk and me at Firehouse Coffee in our neighborhood? If the servers had called us “you guys,” would we have minded? No, not a bit.
What is your experience with guy and guys at work?