Words Matter, Even When They Shouldn't

Words Matter.jpg

You don’t have to look very far to find someone talking, tweeting, or instagraming about equality for women these days. While we certainly have a long way to go, women have worked tirelessly for over a century to get us to where we are today. Often times, without even realizing it, females are softening their words or phrases and sabotaging their own point in order to make someone else feel comfortable.

Next time you are sitting in a meeting or a classroom, pay attention to how are you starting or ending your statements. Are you speaking with clarity and confidence or are you undermining your credibility with qualifiers like “I might be the only one that thinks this, but” or “does that make sense?” While these phrases may not seem like they are a big deal, when they are said often, likely without you even realizing it, others may not be taking you seriously.

Tara Mohr, an expert on women’s leadership and well-being explains four “little things” that women often do when speaking that undermine their credibility and make us appear less confident.

  1. Inserting just: “I just want to check in and see…” “I just think…” Just tends to make us sound a little apologetic and defensive about what we’re saying. Think about the difference between the sound of “I just want to check in and see…” and “I want to check in and see…” or the difference between “I just think” and “I think…”

  2. Inserting actually: “I actually disagree…” “I actually have a question.” It actually makes us sound surprised that we disagree or have a question—not good!

  3. Using qualifiers: “I’m no expert in this, but…” or “I know you all have been researching this for a long time, but…” undermines your position before you’ve even stated your opinion.

  4. Asking, “Does that make sense?” or “Am I making sense?”: I used to do this all the time. We do it with good intentions: We want to check in with the other people in the conversation and make sure we’ve been clear. The problem is, “does that make sense” comes across either as condescending (like your audience can’t understand) or it implies you feel you’ve been incoherent.

Using this inherently female language can unfortunately change people’s perception of us and make us appear “ditzy” or insecure, when in reality we know what we are talking about.  What can you do about it?  There are several easy things that we can do to help modify our speaking habits that keep us from being taken seriously. First, simply be aware that you are saying these things. Merely trying to stay away from the qualifying phrase that you use before you have something to say will curb some of your use of them. If you find yourself still apologizing when you have nothing to apologize for, focus on eliminating “just” from your vocabulary “I just think”. These small changes will go a long way in allowing you to get your point across without appearing timid or unsure.

One last thing, if you have a friend or colleague that could use this message today, please send it their way. Sorry, not sorry.