Coming back to work in the Caribbean has meant getting used to using words of endearment that professionals in developed countries have long eschewed, including “honey”, “sweetheart”, “darling” and “babes”, and even male versions such as “boy” and “man.”
As a professional working in the U.S., I learned long ago that such words are to be completely and entirely avoided. The professional women who took me under their wings when I was a fledgling employee made sure that I learned my lesson in this regard (thank you Mary, Beverly, Kandi, Celeste, Janice…).
I also learned the importance of the firm handshake as a form of generic greeting in the workplace. The rules were dicey back then about how male to be, as I remember a colleague of mine pointing out that I needn’t hold open the door for her, as she certainly was not interested in being treated any differently from the men around me.
Working in the Caribbean is quite different. Warmth and friendship is felt in the embrace of a boss, friendship in a familiar greeting and respect in how we introduce each other to friends and colleagues.
This all takes some getting used to, as these behaviours are exactly the ones I learned to avoid in my early days working at AT&T in New Jersey.
While I do not want to offend, I don’t miss for one minute that cautious feeling I knew in the U.S. workplace, darkened by threats of sexual harassment, racial prejudice and politically incorrect behaviour. My hope is that we in the Caribbean can learn to be sensitive to others preferences, without having to become fearful and paralysed by the threat of a lawsuit.