This One Word Makes You Sound Like a Jerk

We’re in the thick of Hollywood awards season, and with it come the acceptance speeches, which are sometimes inspiring, sometimes funny and sometimes downright pretentious.

Which reminds me of a speech Madonna gave at the Golden Globes ceremony a few years ago that will forever live in my memory — all because of an ordinary, everyday word that she utterly drove into the ground.

And The Word Is …

It’s a word I’ve heard used and abused by countless people over the years and it’s like nails on a chalkboard.

That word? “My.”

Watch for yourself. It’s about a minute-and-a-half:

Did you notice? In just 99 seconds, she used the word “my” six times.

My writers. My co-producer. My leading lady. My film. My, my, my …

People Are Not Possessions

Back in college in Virginia I was taught by a very proper Southern Lady that you were never to use the word “my” when referring to your staff or employees. They are not things, and they are not yours. They are people.

I hear it all the time in the workplace, and it sounds presumptuous. My staff, my department, my team.

Not only is it rude, the overuse of “my” kind of undermines that whole “teamwork” concept everyone’s so fond of citing.

An Easy Fix for Your “My” Problem

So how do you get around it? If you’re Madonna, you might say, “The film’s writers,” “our co-producer,” “the leading lady.”

Of course, if you’re Madonna, maybe this is the precise effect you intended. Elton John, however, was not impressed:

This One Word Makes You Sound Like a Jerk

If, on the other hand, you’re a regular person, you’d say “the purchasing staff,” “our department,” “the team.”

A little wordier, yes. Maybe a bit clumsy at times. But so much more humble-sounding.

Put Yourself On A “My” Reduction Program

So if you find yourself using “my” a lot when talking about other people, consider the unintended message you may be sending. Try going on a “my” diet. The reputation you save may be your own.

(A version of this post originally ran on LinkedIn.)

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