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I was, like, having lunch in the company cafeteria today while working on, like, a presentation, when two coworkers (I have like no idea who they are) sat in a booth like right next to me! One of them was like speaking very animatedly about, like, a non-work topic, in like typical Valleyspeak, which this sentence tries to like, ironically illustrate. </sarcasm>

The other person was listening and seldom saying anything. (Probably slightly irritated?)

...

I didn't do anything in this situation, but I am worried that this is exactly what everyone else in my situation has done (inaction), leaving the coworker unaware of her speech patter, which to many, conveys negative associations, and is generally considered irritating. Our workplace does have resources for communication improvement (e.g. Business communication courses, Toastmasters meetings where there's a special attendant pointing out filler words etc.). Valleyspeaker could become a better communicator, and a better coworker. Of course, it's also possible that she was able to instantly switch to using regular English in a less casual situation.

How could I have acted in this situation in order to understand if she was aware of her overuse of the word "like", and point to the communication resources at our workplace, without being perceived as harassing? Or should I have not even tried? I genuinely wanted to help.

For context, Valleyspeaker was female, which made me extra cautious about any sort of unsolicited contact, given the sensitive nature of these matters in California and the US in general.

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    Read this twitter thread. This is literally from the point of view of someone being eavesdropped on, and then corrected, as you describe. twitter.com/alicegoldfuss/status/1010227927223558144 . Think about how both women in the conversation (and most reply-ers) felt. Do you want to cause those feelings? – Kate Gregory Sep 20 '18 at 18:35
  • Dan, you might want to reconsider using your real name (and photo) here. Not so much or this question, but possibly for the future (too late now, given your SO rep, but, still ... ). – Mawg Sep 24 '18 at 7:20
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    A modern retelling of My Fair Lady, which itself is a retelling of Shaw's Pygmalion? The ending of both is sufficiently ambiguous that you'd better not try. – Peter Sep 24 '18 at 17:31
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    Personally, I never put anything personal online; you never know when it might come back to bite you, or whether it might be twisted or misrepresented and used against you. In this particular case, some people might see you as smug/superior/condescending, and some of those might work with you ... in which case, they already know you, and my argument collapses :-( I dunno, I just never got caught up- in the Facetweet mentality of putting my whole life online and feel uncomfortable having anything about me online. YMMV. – Mawg Sep 25 '18 at 6:40
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    This is not a major case, but I have seen some new users with what seems like a real name and a photo do things like rant about their management, etc, which is obviously inadvisable – Mawg Sep 25 '18 at 6:41
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No there's not. You were in the cafeteria and as such have no expectation of a quiet workspace, unless your company makes it so within certain hours.

Moreover, I would be very, very reluctant to interject myself into strangers' conversations to point out their language. You don't know them and breaking into their conversation to correct someone will only be perceived as very rude. Don't do this. If it bothers you, find a different, quieter place to work, as you pointed out yourself.

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    Yeah, agree. If OP was, say, in a working setting instead of personal break time, then one could possibly take the "Hey, not sure if you're aware of it, but it probably makes you sound less capable than you really are...." approach. But in the cafeteria, with a non-work discussion that OP is not even a participant in, then there's no hiding the "you just annoy me" aspect of it. – PoloHoleSet Sep 19 '18 at 22:50
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There may or may not be safe ways to do what you've asked about (how "safe" it is depends on how expansive you're being with the word "harasser"). A strong reason for the intervention would help, but I don't see one here.

A parallel question is: should you do this?

Others' manners of speaking are not generally going to be your business. Your assessment of a random person's speech patterns is irrelevant in just about every conceivable way. If you were her boss and you wanted her to convey a more professional tone around the office, then there might be a reason to talk with her about it.

But this is not the case-- you just happened to be annoyed. Would you ask how to point out to a random person that you don't like the clothing they picked for the day? That their hairstyle is not pleasing to you? That you think their gait could be better? These are not so different from what you describe.

So why would you insert yourself here? You would be applying your own, subjective preferences (which, in this particular case, I happen to share) to a person you don't know and a situation that neither involves you nor is intended to garner your approval, and insisting that a total stranger alter their behavior to no greater purpose than your own private satisfaction.

It's not so much that there is no method by which you could intervene, but rather that there's no real reason for you to do so.

  • I see hairstyle or gait as communicating less than a manner of speaking which, like it or not, makes the speaker be "perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable", and has no positive connotations that I could find. On the contrary, the we all know the stereotype, and there are even classes for dropping "like" from one's speech. Using "like" tends to kill your credibility. – Dan Dascalescu Sep 20 '18 at 3:07
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    And all of those things are irrelevant to a random stranger. As I said, I agree with you on the desirability of that speech pattern. Even so, it's not any more your business than the other examples I listed. Further, the tone of your question strongly implies that your annoyance is what would prompt you to action, not some benevolent desire to improve the career of a total stranger. – Upper_Case Sep 20 '18 at 14:59
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Dan, I think you have a fair point. And, if we are all being honest...we would recognize (and admit) that what we experience or see does impact our perception. However, I'd suggest you reflect on why you feel so compelled to share your personal feedback.

Are you this individual's manager? A direct co-worker? Her friend? Does she work in a position that communicates publicly? Do you even have this information? It appears to me that this person is someone you do not actually know and that you happen to be sharing air-space with.

What leads you to you believe that it's your place, and responsibility, to offer her your unsolicited feedback? What is your motivation? Do you actually believe that your critique would be genuinely productive and/or constructive? Why or why not? Otherwise, what is the point?

  • If I were in her place, the critique would be a life changer for me. I would be grateful. Maybe ashamed, but grateful to someone who had the courage to break safe but passive social norms, and spent their time and courage to help me. – Dan Dascalescu Oct 4 '18 at 20:09
  • Good points - and how does OP even know she's not an 'airhead'? – Esco Feb 17 at 17:03
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Yes, inaction is what everyone else would have done. They would have done nothing because they would have realized that the speech patterns or impediments of random co-workers was none of their business.

The fact that they were co-workers doesn’t give you an in for correcting their grammar, word choice, or verbal ticks.

If you find it too annoying, you should get up and walk away.

Obviously you were annoyed, but imagine a different world, a world where you overheard that conversation and it was perfect, it didn’t have too many likes, and you were almost moved to standup and give them an standing ovation for the beauty of their language. In that world, precisely how is the company better off? Obviously the company would have at least one employee in a better mood (you), but other than that, how does it benefit?

If you can’t answer that question, you have no business telling your coworkers what to do. And even if you can, you should consider whether it is your place to attempt any correction or bring the issue to someone else’s attention.

  • In that world, the company would have one more employee ready to take on a public speaking role on short notice. As to whether it's my place, apparently not, even though I personally welcome feedback, and I often get (unsolicited) feedback about my accent (usually about how thick it is), albeit not from random people who overhear me speak, though I wouldn't make a fuss about that, because I abide by Crocker's Rules. – Dan Dascalescu Sep 25 '18 at 6:10
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    @DanDascalescu: no, in that world they would have an employee that can speak well (that only you know of), that doesn’t mean the employee is either able or willing to take on a public speaking role. As for feedback on your accent, while you might not mind a random person walking by giving you feedback, it would be totally inappropriate. They would have no idea whether it would be helpful or not, which means they would be just rudely stopping a random person and telling them how to run their life. If you want to improve the tone at your company start a Toast Masters club. – jmoreno Sep 25 '18 at 10:36

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