Don’t Hide Behind Pronouns!

September 1, 2016 | , ,

“Ya know…we send them stuff”

Let’s admit first off what none of us want to admit – that most of us have forgotten what exactly a “pronoun” is…

Its basically any use of “you”, “we”, “them”, “they”, etc. – unspecific references to people or actors in a conversation or past event being discussed.

Believe it or not – the lazy use of pronouns is a huge problem in the field of IT architecture & design, and even business analysis.


  • Bob is a project architect at a college facilitating a workshop for the design of an interface between two systems
  • In describing the current flow of information between the two systems, Bob states that “We send them a file nightly”.

Who is “we” and “them”? Bob needs to specifically state it.

Bob might then answer: “Ok, ‘the college sends the vendor a file nightly’”.

Not good enough! If one is describing a flow of data between systems, one should name the systems to remove all doubt. And while you’re at it, Bob – describe “the file” a little better, too: “Acme app server sends transaction file containing student payments to Foozball, Inc.’s datamart nightly”.

The lazy use of “we”, “them”, etc. in technical discussions is a kind of cop-out and short-hand habit of communicating, and even thinking.

The root of this communication anti-pattern may be that, in any given situation, Bob can’t really answer “what/who is ‘we’?” If so – Bob is hiding from a knowledge gap that must be filled. Or it may be that he lacks the confidence to describe systems & process correctly, so he reverts to a simpler, generic use of pronouns to avoid the (perceived) embarrassment of getting corrected by a colleague or stakeholder. Or it could simply be a bad habit that needs breaking – or all three.

Bob – and you, dear reader (if you also suffer from this problem) – should become aware of when he communicates this way, and begin practicing communicating the correct way verbally. Written communication usually forces the need to be specific – it’s the short-hand, verbal discussion that needs tuning up.

Contact us if you need a high-tech grammar coach for your team.

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Ben Sommer

was a Principal Consultant with Systems Flow, Inc.

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