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Is it OK to call someone a nerd?

Last week I was on a course and the trainer said ‘we have a nerd in the house’ to someone who wrote an industry article.

While I call myself a nerd, I would never call someone who paid money to come to my class that.


I asked my community on LinkedIn, and the results are divided: 46 people voted ‘yes’, it’s OK to call someone a nerd and 63 voted ‘no’. The noes have it, but there is some nuance to this.




1. Where


In a professional environment, where people don’t know each other well, singling someone out as a nerd might not be a good idea.


However, Amanda said:

‘I think it would be different in a close knit office.’

Brian added:


‘..if I was in a situation where I had a friendly relationship with someone, [I] could call them a fellow geek.’

It’s a judgment call as to how friendly a situation is, but if in doubt, in a professional setting, we would err on the side of caution.




2. Who


Clara said:


‘I think it’s only a term that someone can call themselves- I proudly identify as a nerd, as I see it’s positive connotations, but others may not see it as positive term.’

Fariha commented:


‘I don't find it offensive as it depends what meaning you attribute to it. To me it just means someone who knows a lot about a particular subject, so nothing wrong with it.’

Famously Simon Pegg said (not in my LinkedIn comments, lol, in some interview): Being a geek is extremely liberating.’

We need to bear in mind that not everyone defines it in the same way. We now know that the majority of people in this poll say that it’s not OK to be called a nerd. If you do use that word, even in a friendly environment, I would provide a lot of context about how you see it as a positive term to avoid misunderstanding and offence.



3. How


Charlotte said:

‘[it is] very dependant on the tone as well. It can remind me a little of school, when it was often used more to put people down?’’

In person, a friendly smile or our body language can help us communicate that we mean well. Online, not so much. It can be very difficult to get the tone right so let’s make extra effort to be respectful to one another.


Do you agree?



Networking Gone Wrong is a project that was set up to share stories of professionals behaving badly so we can all learn how to behave ethically.


Our new course on online ethics can help you protect your reputation and improve relationships online. Each session is tailored to your goals and challenges. Like everything nowadays, it is delivered via Zoom. https://www.networkinggonewrong.com/corporate-training


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