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  • Dan Berger

What Pronouns Can Tell Us About Belonging


Pronouns are a hot topic these days... but I’m not talking about gender identity. I'm talking about pronouns as an indicator of belonging.


Have you ever noticed a teammate say “their mission” when speaking about the organization they’re a part of? Or maybe someone on your team has said “you need” instead of “we need”?


In his book, The Secret Life of Pronouns, James Pennebaker shares a hierarchy in how employees talk about their companies:

  • Our company signals embrace of the workplace as part of the employee’s identity (best)

  • My company signals a positive work atmosphere (good)

  • The company signals unattached workers (bad)

I’ve always listened to the pronouns to get a sense of how bought in people are when speaking about organizations they're a part of. Pronouns are behavioral signals of social cohesion and can be used to help gauge belonging in the workplace. When managers catch these warning signs, they have an opportunity to diagnose and help course correct.

Pennebaker has also found that conversational mimicry is a sign of high engagement. Leaders should use language that fosters belonging and check that it’s reused by their teammates.

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