Your ability to communicate confidently and powerfully affects your ability to progress in any field of endeavour. Due to gender bias, women face the challenge of communicating effectively without being perceived as bossy or aggressive. So many of us fall into the habit of softening our language to make us appear less bossy.
According to a study by Byte, 55% of women admit to “softening” their communication in the workplace to appear less abrupt or harsh.
This habit may seem harmless but hurts your positioning as a credible or competent professional.
Here are 12 common phrases and words that women use to soften their language. If you want to command more respect and authority, then you should look to eliminate or at least reduce your use of such phrases in your language.
The use of ‘Just’ undermines your credibility and makes you sound unsure about the message you are communicating. “Stop saying ‘just,’ E.g. ‘I am just checking in, ‘I just need you to solve the issue with this client,’ ‘I just wanted to add.’
Delete “just” from your next email and conversations. You do not need to apologize for your thoughts or presence. Make your statements clearly without downplaying or sugarcoating the situation or activity. This will make a difference in how you are perceived.
2. I think
Using ‘I think’ introduces doubt in the minds of your listeners. To get the full attention of your listeners, you must provide them with as much certainty as possible. The way to move from doubt to assurance is to switch from the conditional to the declarative mood by eliminating the weak words. Make your point and say what you have to say ‘I am confident, ‘I am optimistic.’
The use of the word ‘but’ after giving your feedback is a confidence killer. Example ‘This is my opinion, but I may be wrong’ or ‘This is what we need to do, but you may disagree.’ Being humble is fine, but do not undercut yourself or your message. This detracts from the point you are trying to make. Simply say it. If it is not something you want to say, then do not say it. Do not obstruct your message by mixing up your language.
Stop selling yourself short when you have the skills and expertise to appear modest. Eliminate degraders from your speech, e.g. ‘I am no expert but…’ or ‘You will know more on this than me’ or ‘I do not think I have what it takes.’ These statements automatically reduce your integrity to zero. You create doubt in yourself and your co-workers. You do not have to have all the answers, but it should not hold you back from adding your input.
5. Does this make sense?
Confidence in your speech is key to effectively communicating. People will value what you say if you value it yourself. This may be an innocent way to communicate to get an honest response from your audience, but it discredits your entire message and signals self-doubt. To convey a message and say, “Does it make sense?” at the end, suggests uncertainty and lack of empowerment. Instead, say “I trust you are following me” to put the power back in your hands.
You have a seat at the table, don’t be apologetic about taking it. Women are seen to be more nurturing which can be misconstrued as being a pushover. Using ‘sorry’ inappropriately acknowledges wrong when there may not even be an offence. You need to stop using sorry, and instead, focus on what you intend to say. Stop apologizing, e.g., at the end of the call, ‘Sorry, can I just add…’ Your voice needs to be heard, you are adding value and there is nothing to apologize for. Instead of saying sorry, use “I would like to add…” and proceed to make your contributions succinctly.
7. I do not know how
It is okay to not know everything, but it is better to ask for help than to immediately dismiss your ability. You must have a ready-to-learn spirit, telling yourself and others you do not know how to do something can actually lower your confidence in yourself. Here is where the “fake it until you make it” mindset can work. The most successful women are willing to take risks and seize every opportunity. They think fast on their feet to get the resources they need to help them make progress. Stop saying, “I do not know how to do this or that,” and say, “I will do all I can to make this work.” Ask for help.
8. Can I suggest?
Yes, you can make any suggestions without asking permission. It is necessary to remember why you are in a particular organization or career. If you were not fit for the role, you would not have earned it. Knowing this will give you the boost you need to voice your suggestions and not hold back your input. Do not use questions when you want to make a statement. Questions may be necessary. They allow you to introduce an idea slowly but sometimes you can say, ‘Let us do it this way’ instead of ‘can we do it this way?’
9. No problem
This phrase is mostly used to cover up how we feel about a situation. A perfect example is when we are asked to take on extra work, in order not to offend our colleagues or boss the response is usually, ‘No problem, I will get it done,’ when there may be a problem. It is difficult to say simply say no. Instead of saying ‘no problem’ and when there is, be honest with your response. When someone thanks you, instead of saying “no problem,” say “you are welcome.”
10. To be honest
Many times, we say this before sharing our opinion, to soften our message and not make it a big deal but this does the complete opposite. These words bring emotion into the equation; they make you seem as if you are hesitant to say your mind—or that other statements you have made were not entirely honest. If you begin using ‘to be honest’ and then suddenly stop, one may question whether your statements are fact or fiction. Remove it from your vocabulary altogether to avoid looking dishonest.
11. “I am too old” or “I am too young”
We know that age discrimination is rife in our society. Women face the brunt of this discrimination but we should not allow it to limit our choices. Age is just a number. Do not discount your experience or capabilities because of your age. Regardless of your experience, take each opportunity as a chance to show what you are capable of—no age requirements or excuses are necessary. Avoid unnecessary references to your age.
12. I will try
We use ‘I will try” if we are not sure we can accomplish something or if we are not sure we want to invest our time and energy into something. In both cases, ‘I will try’ is not a convenient answer. It doesn’t communicate commitment. An assertive ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is enough. If you need more time to decide whether you can do what you were asked to do, say, then say ‘I need more time to think about it and get back to you.’ Secondly, if you need help, state it accordingly. The most common phrase that women tend to say is ‘I will try’ instead of ‘I will do it.’ You are conveying doubt and a lack of commitment to the task.
As women, we need to stop doubting our worth and communicate with power. Eliminate the words and phrases that hurt your professional image and reputation.
What would you add to the list? Let us know by sharing and tagging us on our social media platforms.
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