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By Darryl Stewart
It is official: you need to stop saying “you guys”

It is official: you need to stop saying “you guys”

I know I am late to the party on this, but judging by how often I still hear the phrase “you guys”—sometimes from my own mouth—English-speaking North Americans still struggle with this.

Twice in the last few weeks I have had run-ins with “you guys”. First, it was at a presentation by a male presenter to a large mixed audience. He caught himself saying “you guys” and then instead of just apologizing, he said: “When I say ‘you guys’, please know I mean everyone. Is that OK?” More than one female voice shouted back: “NO!”. He was noticeably embarrassed.

Second was at an intimate leadership training event. Each of us had to give impromptu presentations in front of the group and then we were critiqued afterwards by the dean of the program. A woman did a great presentation—one of the best of the 25—and was told so by the 75-year-old white male dean, but in the areas for improvement, he noted her use of “you guys” as inappropriate. “Leaders with character work hard to be neutral with their communications and not alienate or offend…so as to increase the reach of their message,” he said.

80% of women, by one informal poll, are not offended by the use of “you guys”. Makes you think it might be okay? No. The converse is that 20% of women are offended. Some men are offended by the term, too.

All of us leaders, men and women alike, need to move on from “you guys”. But how?

Well, “y’all” is an option, but I know many of us city slickers are not going to find this easy to use.

I found this in the comments section of a blog post on the matter:

Here’s the thing—grammatically, you don’t need the second word in many places where this phrase is used:

  • Wait-staff taking your order: “What would you like tonight?”
  • Your friends: “What movie would you like to see?”
  • A group of people you’re thinking about joining wherever they’re heading: “Which way are you going?”
  • Two women to whom you’re giving an award: “Congratulations to both of you.”

When I pose a question to an audience these days, I just take out the “guys”. For example: “How many of you have heard of Jim Collins?”

It is not hard to get by without the male reference, but it is hard to grind the habit out of our minds. But the time has come to get it done, y’all.

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