Make team communications safe and productive

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While the conversation on presenting personal pronouns has been ongoing for a while, I am fairly new to it. I started seeing people adding their personal pronouns in Slack. Then I noticed friends and colleagues discussing personal pronouns on social media.

These are issues that affect the interconnected elements of technical productivity and personal well-being for any member of my teams. As a result, I’ve started to think about the role of project manager (PM) and ScrumMaster (SM) and our responsibility in making sure team communications are safe and productive when it comes to disclosing, discussing or supporting the use of personal pronouns.

Gendered descriptors, including personal pronouns, have historically been binary: male/female, man/woman, his/hers. Society and language are evolving to better represent non-binary and/or gender-neutrality applied to personal identification. In English, the use of “they” and “them” has become more prevalent when referring to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary, or as a gender-neutral reference to any individual: “Chris just gave an amazing demo. They did an awesome job.”

As a PM or SM, it’s important to provide your team with a safe environment to share and provide feedback when using personal pronouns. Using correct personal pronouns allows everyone to feel equally included. Taking the time to understand the personal pronouns of our team members helps us grow as a team and perform better as a cohesive unit.

It’s about respecting each other, including everyone and improving team communications. You can start by helping team members update their Slack profiles and including this topic when creating or reviewing team work agreements. Empower people to correct others when needed, and build a team culture based on respect and responsive, respectful feedback.

Look for ways beyond just pronouns to encourage your teams to bring their full selves to work. When someone feels valued as a person, they feel like they belong. This allows them to focus their energies on creating amazing software, not worrying about hiding some aspect of their beings or fending off unwanted comments or behaviors from teammates.

Just as it was for me, learning about and applying these new communications skills is new for many people. Will we make mistakes as we dive into this new, emerging communication style? Of course. But, there are two important things to acknowledge: Learning can happen only in a safe and supportive space – and – we must strive to do better with each interaction.

After all, it’s about respecting each other and growing as a team.

TJ Trujillo, principal agile project manager for strategic projects

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