While scrolling through Twitter the other day, I saw a post from Sue Schade that caught my eye. She shared a link, adding “Great advice!” My attention was piqued — if it was coming from Schade, it was bound to be click-worthy.
As it turned out, not only was it worth a browse, but it was that rare piece that I read the whole way through, nodding my head and even saying (to no one in particular), “Yes!” The article highlighted several words and phrases that should be banned from the vocabulary of any woman who wishes to appear more confident (and, frankly, be taken seriously) in the workplace.
Here are a few examples:
- “Just” (as in, “I just wanted to check in…”)
- “I’m no expert, but…”
- “Am I making sense?”
- “What if we tried…”
Guilty. I’ve used all four of those, along with several other expressions that I now realize have caused people to question my authority on an issue. And I’ve witnessed many other women do the same, not realizing that using qualifiers like these can lessen the impact of our words and even negate the credibility of our statements, according to author Melody Wilding. In the article, she offers tips on how to rewire language habits in order to project an air of assurance, rather than doubt. “It’s not about ‘talking like a man’ or adapting an aggressive style,” she noted. “It’s about tapping into your inner courage and channeling it for more confident communication.”
It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago at the CHIME Fall Forum with Helen Thompson, now interim Chief Technology Administrator at Memorial Health. “I can’t stand the tone some young women take in emails,” she told me. “I want to say to them, ‘spit it out!’ Stop apologizing for taking up my time and just say what you want to say.” Of course, I immediately tried to recall how I worded my emails to her, hoping I didn’t sound too apprehensive, or come off like I was looking for approval (another characteristic she had seen in Gen X women).
And all the while, I kept waiting for her to back down on her stance and say something like “I know I may sound harsh, but…”
Only, she didn’t. Thompson said her piece, and left it out there. Her confidence was inspiring to me, and it has caused me to think carefully about the image I project — not just what I say (and write), but how I communicate those feelings. Since that time, there have been multiple occasions when I’ve read through an email and deleted the entire thing, if not most of it, because it didn’t convey a strong voice.
And in fact, I believe many young women would benefit tremendously from having the same (or at least a similar) conversation. Because the more I think about it, the more I believe that many of us have no idea how timid we seem, and we need someone like Helen to put that bug in our ear. We need someone to point us in the right direction; not to judge the way we speak, but to help us present the best version of ourselves in a professional setting.
And so I encourage leaders (especially those who lead women) to pull aside those who overuse words like “just” and have an honest conversation about it. Or at least send a link to the Forbes article.
Just don’t apologize.