I recently read an article that really stuck with me. It was written by former Google and Apple alum, Ellen Petry Leanse and published on LinkedIn. It was a rant, really, about the overuse of the word “just” in the business world (and beyond). But not by everyone, no, it was the overwhelming exertion of the word by females.
“Women used just more often than men.”
Aside from Petry Leanse being a girl boss that makes me worship at her altar for business advice, her words stuck with me for one reason: I just use “just” so damn often.
“I’m just checking in to see how you’re going with…”
“I’m just following up on…”
“Just writing to let you know…”
“If you can just give me an answer…”
I’ve always thought of the word as being polite. It allowed me to turn a demand into a gentle question or reminder without coming across like an uptight b*itch. But the more I got to thinking—and reading it in context—the more I agreed with Petry Leanse. It’s not polite, it’s just weak.
“It was a “permission” word, in a way—a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking “Can I get something I need from you?”” she writes.
“The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was a “child” word. As such it put the conversation partner into the “parent” position, granting them more authority and control.”
Petry Leanse has a point. But it’s not the only “weak” word women often use. Time and time again women undermine their credibility by using minimising language, particularly in the office. According to Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, a number of words and phrases can jeopardise your professional image and potential for promotion. And while body language is of the utmost importance, Price says, “Words matter.”
“They are a key component of persuasive communication. Regardless of the audience, topic, or industry, or whether the setting is a stand-up presentation, sit-down conversation, telephone discussion, or an online meeting, a leader uses language to influence someone’s mind in order to achieve a certain result. That’s one reason they’re seen as leaders; their words compel people to follow,” she writes.
So if you want to advance your professional career and be seen as a leader in your workplace, you’ll need to start speaking like one. Price suggests to use words that are empowering to yourself and others; to use language that captivates, motivates, and inspires; and to communicate a vocal image that conveys clarity, confidence, and credibility. How? You ask. She told Forbes, start by avoiding these…
Does “I will try to get it done” sound convincing? No. So you should never utter it at work, especially to your boss. The word “try” suggests you’re not completely confident in your abilities so if you’re not, it’ll make your boss wonder if she or he should be too.
Instead, Price suggests using, “Yes, I will get it finished” or better yet, “I will have it on your desk by 9 a.m.” If for some reason you fail to complete the task, ask for an extended deadline.
Which of these two statements sounds more authoritative?: “I think our company might be a good partner for you.” Or, “I believe…” “I know…” or “I am confident that our company will be a good partner for you.”
“There is a slight difference in the wording, however, the conviction communicated to your customer is profound,” she says. “You may have noticed, the first phrase contains two weak words, ‘think’ and ‘might.’ They risk making you sound unsure or insecure about the message. Conversely, the second sentence is assertive and certain. To convey a command of content and passion for your subject, substitute the word ‘think’ with ‘believe’ and replace ‘might’ with ‘will.’”
These phrases are known as discounting, Price explains. They diminish the impact of what follows and reduce your credibility. “Remember that your spoken words reveal to the world how much value you place on yourself and your message. For this reason, eliminate any prefacing phrase that demeans the importance of who you are or lessens the significance of what you contribute.”
Don’t say, “This may be a silly idea, but I was thinking that maybe we might conduct the quarterly meeting online instead, okay?” Instead, assert your recommendation: “To reduce travel costs and increase time efficiency, I recommend we conduct the quarterly meeting online.”
These phrases are commonly known as hedging—seeking validation through the use of overly cautious or non-committal words, she says. “If you truly are seeking approval or looking for validation, these phrases may well apply. However, if your goal is to communicate a confident commanding message and persuade people to see it your way, instead of hedging make your statement or recommendation with certainty.”
Imagine an investment banker saying, “This is a good way to invest your money, don’t you think? I’ll proceed if that’s okay with you.” Instead, you’d probably want to hear something like: “This strategy is a wise investment that provides long-term benefits. With your approval, I’ll wire the money by 5 pm today.”