Why do you think brands bank on professional copywriters to advertise products; celebrities employ public relations specialists to manage image; or speeches of world leaders are researched, re-researched, vetted and then delivered? It is because words matter. The language that we use to communicate with each other has the potential to impact perceptions. Especially in the context of mental health and workplace wellbeing, the words we use become doubly important because they drive the behaviour of stakeholders who may or may not have factual knowledge of a person’s background, skills and calibre.
Casual Labelling, Unconscious Exclusion
Words set the tone for what is to come. Don’t they? We have the tendency to pick up on certain words and their meanings after spending enough time at a place getting to know people. Likewise, our conditioning primes us to attach certain meanings to mental health terms - psycho or retard, for instance. How many times do we use these words with our friends, colleagues or random strangers on the internet? Apply the same to unofficial channels of communication in the office. How will the usage of these words influence perception? Would it hamper the workplace wellbeing of the person who is labelled a ‘retard’ due to the slow pace of learning; a person who is labelled an ‘alcoholic’ after a party; a person who is judged ‘psychotic’ due to a meltdown?
When we callously use such words without understanding the full extent of its meaning, unconsciously we are perpetuating the stigma around mental health. We don’t even anticipate the consequences of our uneducated diagnosis that labels people, excluding them from the ‘normal’ because of a certain quirk or disposition.
Half Awareness, Whole Trauma
IMagine being medically diagnosed with a mental health problem - which one would be a preferred label - nuts, lunatic, manic or crazy? None, right? Why? Our mental health issues, just like our physical ones, stem from causes that are not even fully known to the one diagnosed, leave alone others. Lack of awareness and misinformation can be dangerous. It can isolate a person as a consequence of being labelled, trigger a deep traumatic memory or stigmatize the perception of others. This can easily lead to discrimination and/or unfavourable attitudes. With the pandemic, these issues escalated. In lack of proper engagement, uncertainty about the future and remote processing of information and emotions, people might not always have the healthy vent that warrants workplace wellbeing.
Low Empathy, High Stigma
Technology brought a revolution in communications that have sped up since the pandemic. It has made it possible to work with colleagues across the globe via email, mobile apps, and the internet, without necessarily having to meet each other in person. Adapting human skills to new forms of communication has been the primary prerogative of companies for a while because of this disruption. However, there is also an urgent need to adapt to psychosocial cultural backgrounds with empathy and understanding of the unique potential that an individual can bring to the table.
To bring about an environment of empathy and healthy workplace wellbeing through the remote and hybrid ways of working, one has to be trained to communicate sensitively. When using technology as the only means of communication, we need to understand the choice of words and ensure communication styles are not emotionless or hurtful.
“Not my monkey, not my circus” is a credo many of us live by to protect our naivety to the repercussions of words we carelessly use. Especially when we are not directly affected by them. That does not change the truth that words matter - a lot. A speech, an interview, a pub conversation, a tweet, all have the power to instil hope or rummage fear in the recipient who might or might not have optimal control on the outcome. This significantly exposes them to hazards that can hamper mental health. Which is why it is imperative to unlearn, relearn and break stereotypes by using correct words while describing a person or situation. It can get difficult to remove stigmatizing words from one’s vocabulary, but it is a positive step towards choosing the right words. Think before you label!