When’s the last time you used the phrase “just checking in…” or “I just think…” in an email? Monday? This morning? The last one you sent? Yeah, it’s pretty common among women. I probably start every fifth email with “just following up on this” and reading back through other emails I received this week, I’m not alone.
The trouble is that while it’s a completely unconscious habit, it’s sabotaging our confidence.
Every time women use phrases like “just” or “I’m no expert but…” we unknowingly undermine ourselves.
Communicating is something we do constantly, but rarely examine. So when I came across the ways in which us ladies undermine ourselves through speech patterns (the paper trail is long winded: an email from Ramit Sethi, via this Goop article via Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big), I was intrigued. I literally spend all day arranging words into sentences, figuring out how to make them sound better, and yet I can point to several emails I sent this week in which at least one of these situations applies. Occasionally, all four in one email.
Here are the “little things” women often do according to Mohr, in an effort to soften our communication, that end up diminishing our words and thoughts. They can have a major impact, and once you become aware of them it’s somewhat shocking how often these patterns come up. At least, it was for me.
- Inserting just: “I just want to check in and see…” “I just think…” Apparently “just” tends to make us sound a little apologetic and defensive about what we’re saying. Consider the difference between “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…”. This is the biggest offender for me, I use it constantly. Emails, texts, phone calls, you name it. I definitely believe it softens everything a bit, which is probably why I use it (people pleaser 4 lyfe). Working on it.
- Inserting actually: “I actually disagree…” “I actually have a question.” Mohr says “it actually makes us sound surprised that we disagree or have a question—not good!” I’d add that it can make us sound surprised that we have a smart thought or idea. I noticed this is a meeting the other day when I said “I actually just did it this way instead…”
- 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. So obvious right, but again, allllll the damn time. I often use “Tell me if you think otherwise but…” or “You guys know better than I do but…”
- Asking, “Does that make sense?” or “Am I making sense?”: We do this 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.
So I’ve been making a conscious effort to catch myself when using these words and phrases in emails and conversations, and I gotta say it feels pretty good. Even if you already feel confident in your abilities and behaviors, it’s something to practice noting and then course correcting. Why unconsciously undermine yourself, if you’re fully aware of how competent you are, ya know?
By the way, omitting qualifiers and communicating with authority doesn’t mean we can’t be warm and genuine. Mohr notes that opening or closing an email with a friendly greeting can be perceived in a positive way. Afterall, both men and women use qualifiers, but studies show that when men use them it doesn’t impact how authoritatively they come across. For women, the consequences are negative.
Are you regularly using some of these undermining speech and writing patterns without being aware of it? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments if it’s something you’re working on!