When it comes to building a strong team, your words matter – no matter where you are in the organization. However, the higher you climb in a job, the more important your words become. One way to chip away at team cohesiveness is to use words that don’t really mean what you’re saying. For example, the word “we” doesn’t always mean what you think it does.

When to say We

Now, don’t get me wrong. When you’re talking about the whole team and what needs to happen, go ahead and use that plural pronoun. If you’re talking about the mission and goals of the organization, by all means, talk about the team as a whole and use ‘we’ to describe everyone. But that’s not how everyone uses this pronoun. It’s not that you can’t use the word, but that it’s frequently used incorrectly.

Who is This We You Speak of? I think You Mean Me!

If you want to check on a status that one or two team members is directly responsible for, use the team member’s names or the pronoun ‘you.’ If you want to assign a task to someone, ask them directly. If you think something is not getting done and only one person can complete the task, do not say, “Have we competed xyz task?” Instead, ask, “Have YOU completed xyz task?” Also, if something is being missed by a team member, do not address that person saying, “we need to be doing xyz.” The use of “we” creates confusion and irritation. It doesn’t spare feelings – it just creates a passive aggressive environment.

If you’ve ever had the joy of watching Office Space, that cringing feeling you get at the deep level of passive aggressiveness is what the incorrect use of the pronoun “we” brings about. All I need now is for you to say, “Can we get those TPS reports together today?” Unless you plan on helping with the TPS reports – also known as monthly status reports to send to the client so they know what you did for the hours worked this past month – don’t use the word we in that question.

Be Direct

By all means, don’t be a jerk, but it is far better to be direct in your communication than to be passive aggressive when you’re displeased that something isn’t done. Next time you think that it feels more team oriented to use we when asking an individual on the team a question, ask yourself if you really mean we. Chances are, you don’t. Drop the incorrect usage and speak directly to the team member. They will appreciate the honesty. If you need me to check on something, ask me nicely – and directly.


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.