I realized what code-switching was many years ago. Remembering this sweet and soft high-pitched voice my sister would use when talking to someone over the phone. I would always  ask her, “why are you talking like that??”. Because it was so different from the tone she used in conversations with family.

It was an unconscious thing that she did to come off to the receiver as more relatable I guess. 

Code-switching at work or any new/unfamiliar environment is a survival mechanism in my opinion. It’s the need to fit in with the majority by switching up the way you speak.

It could be tone, words, body language or anything in your communication style that is different from how you normally interact. 

For Black people; especially Black women, code-switching at work is a way to mask the perceivably aggressive undertone many of us just naturally have. Just recently, I had a situation at work where a colleague and I were having in my opinion, a normal conversation/disagreement about work activities.

He assumed that I had an attitude and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I said that made him feel uncomfortable. 

Now, I’m hyper aware of how I come off to people. Not in a sense of I care what they think, but more so protecting myself from over analyzing my interactions and how people receive me. 

Luckily for me, of all the jobs I’ve held and people I’ve interacted with, being true to who I am and my communication styles have worked the best. 

However, there are certain things that you should do and not do when interacting with folks at work. Obviously, you want to be yourself, but there’s no harm in remixing it a bit to thrive in corporate environments

code-switching funny

Here are the Dos of code-switching at work.

Read the room.


Reading the room comes with practice and repetition. It basically means picking up on the tone, body language, and vibe of a group of people. A part of the reason we code-switch as Black women is that we are unsure if the space we are in is safe or not. So it’s important to get a feel of your audience before deciding how you want to interact.

Do your research.

If you’re starting a new job or switching departments, do some research on the culture of the company or group you will be supporting. This will help you to better understand the language of your colleagues and assist you in remixing your own dialect in a way everyone can understand. If you chose not to code-switch, at least have some understanding of the equivalent language understood by the majority. You can achieve this by doing research so you can easily decode for your audience. 

Be professional.

This goes without saying; in a work environment, you should prioritize professionalism over anything else. Professionalism can be defined in many ways; but I think we can all agree with a few non-negotiables like being polite, avoiding profanity, and performing your job duties to the best of your ability. All of these things can be accomplished in tandem with code-switching at work. 

Effective communication is another super important way to show professionalism.

Here are the Don’ts of code-switching at work.

code-switching languages

Be super fake.

This is the most annoying thing in the world!! I get that you’d want to be a little more polished and professional, but to change who you are completely is a stretch. And it has to be super exhausting to keep up. That’s one way you could allow burnout to creep up and make you hate your job. So do your best to not code-switch yourself into a completely different identity.

Imagine how freeing it would be to show up every day as yourself and be accepted. And if you’re not accepted, it may be a good idea to change the environment instead of changing who you are. 

Reinforce stereotypes.

The more you code-switch at work, the more you reinforce a stereotype that is impossible and too exhausting to keep up with.

Individuality and cultural expressions are the things that will help to reduce the pressure of having to fit in with the majority. 

Make broad assumptions.

Don’t make the assumption that a person’s dialect is an indication of how much or how little they know. This can open up a can of worms and unintentionally be very offensive. Acting on these assumptions can come in the form of patronizing, pitying, or praising someone based on an assumption from the way they speak or carry themselves.

Code-switching at work comes from all backgrounds; we make these generalizations about people from other cultures and ignorantly assume their understanding of the world. Just don’t do it; take the time to get to know someone first.


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