Thoughtful Communication Is Inclusive Communication
Communication is like silly putty. Stretchy and pliable, it can be formed into a multitude of shapes. Heck, it can even bounce if you roll it into a ball. At its most foundational, language is unlimited, unbound and untethered. So why do we continue to limit it with exclusive language when we have the options to make it more inclusive?
I’ll tell you why, because it happened to me recently: It’s easier and faster to communicate when we rely on stereotypes, tropes and clichés. And because we’re often in a hurry to get a piece written, edited and published, sometimes we don’t take the time to edit with an inclusive lens.
To be clear—there are use cases for all of the above. It’s just that when we rely on them too heavily, it limits the potential for creating more inclusive communication.
It’s easy to exclude unintentionally.
Gather round, and I’ll tell you a story of my own recent follies and how you might be able to learn from my mistakes.
In a recent AMC newsletter, Lauren McDowell asked the team for music or movie recommendations. Having recently fallen deeply for a hometown band (with global acclaim!), Khruangbin, I was super excited to have a platform from which to sing their praises and show the world just how hip I am.
I wrote a blurb that made a crack about the fact that you “don’t have to know how to pronounce it” to enjoy the music. Which is, for sure, the truth. However, in editing, McDowell had a much better way of getting the point across AND educating the reader about their name and its origins.
Here’s how it appeared in the newsletter:
“Houston-based trio Khruangbin (a Thai word that means ‘flying engine’ or ‘aeroplane’) has been on a steady rise with its genre-bending, mostly instrumental blends of soul, surf, psychedelic, and funk.”
Why this way is better.
First, Thai speakers absolutely know how to pronounce “khruangbin,” so I’m already excluding those folks unintentionally. Secondly, it’s highly likely that longtime fans and supporters of the band do too. Lastly, McDowell’s extra effort in researching what the word actually meant and where it originated added a nice piece of context to the name and the band itself. Education > exclusion.
So, yeah. Exclusive communication is easy. But so is inclusive communication.
When you start to write or edit any piece of content, in addition to your lenses of spelling, grammar, style and tone, add one more: inclusivity. It can mean the difference when it comes to truly thoughtful and deliberate communication, and make everyone feel like they’re a welcome part of the conversation.
Here’s just one real-life example from the Los Angeles Times and the thought process behind it if you need some more inspiration or examples of what “othering” language could look or sound like.