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Peter Ramsden

Paramount Learning Ltd


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Political Correctness – Guys, Gals, Everyone – Which is Correct?


I was recently working with a group of trainers on a five day program. I had to undergo a number of observed tasks to pass the program and was given written and verbal feedback from fellow trainers along the way. In the main the feedback was excellent but one comment has thrown me a little. Whenever I am working with groups and I need to get everyone's attention I use the phrase immediately after a short period of silence. "OK guys can I have your attention please". However in the feedback I was advised that this term can cause offense to some and that it would be wise to use another method or term for gathering the group together. The point was made by a female member of the group who works in the public sector that the term guys had caused ill feeling when working amongst mixed groups in her organisation. I am a personable guy and have little or no desire to directly cause offense. I use guys in a group sense as a term of endearment. I refer to close family and friends as guys. I discussed this feedback with another friend who also refers to his children (boys and girls) affectionately as guys when communicating with them as a group. Is this political correctness gone too far or do I really need as a trainer to change my terms of reference when working with mixed groups. Appreciate your comments,

14 Responses

  1. Guys and Dolls
    Hi Peter

    An interesting question, and one I that has been pointed out to me too. I find myself using the term ‘guys’ to refer to a mixed group of people too, and as far as I’m aware have not directly caused offence by this, but it was pointed out to me by a colleague, more as an open question than a criticism. Many female colleagues I know use the term ‘guys’ to refer to their (mixed) peer group, so I guess this ultimately comes down to personal interpretation and the old chestnut ‘what the individual deems to be acceptable’.

    Unless I am specifically told otherwise, I’ll be continuing to use the term ‘guys’ in future. I think it would be a real minority of very sensitive people who would actively take offence to this, and I don’t think it would ever lead to something as serious as a discrimination case, merely a slightly uncomfortable ‘I’m sorry if I caused offence, it was not my intention’ conversation.

    I’m looking forward to watching the debate…!

    Kind regards


  2. Ladies not allowed either
    I too use the term ‘Guys’ whenever training and it has never been raised as an issue. However we did have a complaint recently from delegates who were offended by the term ‘Ladies’.

  3. Be flexible!

     A suggestion: You could say ‘people’ or ‘everyone’ or ‘folks’? 

    And a question: If you know that a term might annoy some delegates, why carry on using it?

  4. A new general term

    Perhaps we could use the term "humans"…

    It include everyone, men, woman, ladies, gentlemen, those that prefer to not be typecast in their gender.

    — Michelle Kaye IT Trainer Boodle Hatfield

  5. Everyone – sounds non descript

    Hi Mandy,

    I do try and be flexible and avoid wherever possible the use of  the term "guys".

    However I feel that the alternatives I use are non-descript and do not convey any warmth whatsoever.

    "Can I get everyones attention" feels like I am working with a group of "generic" participants and it seems to be more controlling than working with delegates.

    Any suggestions that the group can make for gathering people together that conveys warmth without the chance of causing offence much appreciated,


  6. Guys

    For me the term "Guys" has been ruined by Davina McCall – and I can’t bear to use or hear it. Nothing to do with being PC though.

  7. Mad World

    Yes it is political correctness gone mad and I could now produce a 1000 word essay about pandering to the politically correct lobby … but I won’t!  Equality & Diversity is a hot topic and bullying, harrassment and discrimination are real issues.  What REALLY bothers me is that this sort of nit picking by some individuals undermines the true meaning and purpose of this agenda and also demeans the problems that people face in our society. 

    In my personal view (and no offence to anyone) for women to be offended by being termed ladies is ridiculous, as with men and the term gentlemen.  On the whole I don’t mind what I’m called apart from mate, which I really do hate – not enough to sue someone but enough to cause a frown.    

    I agree with Mandy that people is a term that rarely offends, but I think that the term you use to address people is a part of your personaility and overall delivery style and this comes across in your presentation.  Maybe the person who used guys in the public sector example really wasn’t very engaging or personable so people didn’t respond to him/her and were offended by the informality.  And maybe they wouldn’t have liked whatever that particular trainer referred to them as!

    Your personality is a part of your delivery so if guys suits you then stick with it.  You could do yourself more harm than good by trying to use a term you aren’t so comfortable with.  You could alternatively say, "Oi, you ‘orrible lot!"  🙂

  8. Use of ‘guys’ to address mixed groups
    So after thirty years of post feminism these tired old questions are still being raised. Read your Dale Spender ‘Man Made Language’ and any other number of subsequent texts which discuss the gendered nature of language and how the use of language encapsulates and reinforces social attitudes.

    In a word, no. It is no more appropriate to address a mixed group as ‘guys’ than it would be to address them all as ‘ladies’. By doing so you are only addressing half of the audience, and ignoring the other half. What you are implying is that you are talking to the men (only), that they are the norm and women are only included to the extent that they are ‘guys’.

    If some women choose to refer to themselves and other women as ‘guys’ – that is entirely their choice. It may be done ironically, subversively or for any other reason. That doesn’t mean that you can use the term! A useful parallel is how some black people have reclaimed the ‘n’ word.

    I am sure you are a personable trainer and have no intention of causing offence. And indeed many of us are so tired of hearing this kind of stuff that we just don’t react to it any more. But since you asked, a preferable phrase would be:

    “OK everybody can I have your attention please”.

  9. ‘Guys’ is correct


    From my thesaurus – Word: guy  Function: noun  Meaning: 1 a member of the human race  Example “hey guys! Let’s get to class!”  See ‘human’.

    There is also a second suggestion in the Thesaurus – ‘man’ of course – but ‘guy’ is well established in modern English as a noun to refer to other people regardless of their sex (don’t get me started on the use of gender vs. sex…).

    Claiming that the evolution of the use of the word ‘nigger’ is a useful parallel to the use of the word guy in this discussion is wrong of course. I think anyone would be pushed to recall any situation in which a woman was called ‘a guy’ with the intention of insulting them.

    It is true that values and culture are reflected in our language, which then conditions and shapes our relationships and the evolution of our thoughts and culture (isn’t it interesting that English had no equivalent word for ‘macho’, and that there are so many self-something words).

    However, this doesn’t only refer to the addition and removal of words, but mainly it is the evolution of the meaning of those words – in the same way that the meaning of the word ‘guy’ has evolved and is now commonly accepted as a synonym of people. Its use is similar to the words mankind and man-made (people-made or peoplekind anyone?).

    We all have the utmost respect for women and their rights, and so now that we’ve established that the usage of ‘guys’ is correct, the only obstacle is that very small minority of people who actively scout for anything that could possibly be construed as an insult.

    The only parallel possible with racial discrimination is that of positive discrimination. As a previous poster mentioned, the whole point of post feminism was that positive discrimination is no longer needed, as is special sensitivity to any possible gender bias in our language.

    Some may consider that if there’s even the smallest chance that somebody might take offence, it’s worth sanitising our language. However, I prefer to stand firmly on the side of unpasteurised, normal language.

    Like a good unpasteurised stilton, the use of normal, correct, unsanitised language might on very rare occasions cause a belly bug, but it’s one of the pleasures of life and tastes so much better.

    Alex Taylor

  10. Political Correctness – Guys, Galls, Everyone – What is Correct?

    I’m with the group who think this is political correctness going too far.  I use "Guys" as a generic term for the whole group and would agree with other commentators that this is just the personality of the trainer being expressed.  I would not feel comfortable using any different words…that’s one in the eye for political correctness.

  11. Guys and Gals
    Guys are not female (buy a dictionary). As a trainer myself I would never use it. As a trainee, I have pointed it out to other trainers that I am not a guy. I am not offended by it, but it is wrong. Nothing to do with being PC, it is just incorrect. It might have become acceptable slang in some circles, but that doesn’t make it acceptable in a formal training session.

  12. The dictionary says yes

    Dear Training.Dept,

    Indeed I do have a dictionary, a few of them in fact. The definition I used above was copied and pasted straight from one:

    "Word: guy  Function: noun  Meaning: 1 a member of the human race  Example “hey guys! Let’s get to class!”  See ‘human’."

    That definition comes straight from the Merriam Webster Thesaurus (accessible online and rivaled only by the OED). Furthermore, I’ve just checked it in my copy of the Concise Oxford and it’s also included with a similar definition (among others) and without any connotations of it being considered slang.

  13. Sorry Guys, Guys doesn’t work!

    I agree with sarahax; "guys" is not inclusive. I think it’s interesting that it is mostly males who feel that "guy" is generic, whereas the female posters here do not.

    How about words such as: "folks", "everyone", or just "could I have your attention please?" as if you were speaking to each person individually, which by the way, is more personal.

    Just imagine if I were training you and I refered to everyone as "gals" and insisted it was generic and didn’t offend any women I know, and that men who found it offensive were just going overboard on political correctness. How would men feel about that?

    Not very well, I bet.

    And yes, "guys" and "gals"  are masculine and feminine (not generic) in the social world, regardless of the dictionary definition.

  14. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it …

    Having just returned from a day delivering training I’m happy to share with you the findings of my wholly unscientific study on the guys and dolls debate. 

    Subjects – homosapiens of mixed age, gender, ethnicity and sexual preference.

    Terms of Reference – "guys" used to approach a group of mixed gender humans; "girls" directed at a group of mixed age females; "people" aimed at the whole group; "team" when taking feedback following an exercise; "latecomers" for those who returned back 10 minutes late from lunch.

    Outcome – whatever I called the humans they did not bat an eye lid, even the "girls" (which even the scientific officer was dubious about).  All subjects responded positively, no one took offence, and the training was well received with some great feedback.   The humans enjoyed my interaction with them, liked my informal, energetic and motivational approach.

    Point for consideration – maybe it’s not the words you use … it’s how and when you use them!

    Psst – between you and me I have also in the past called a group of these human male things I’ve had to deal with "ladies".  Went down pretty well!  🙂


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