Research shows women are much more likely to say “I’m sorry” than men. Although no one quite knows why this is the case, it seems our threshold for understanding given behavior as offensive is simply much lower than that of our male counterparts.
Whatever the cause of our ongoing apologies, the result is the same – we subtly undermine our authority and credibility. We are seen by those around us to be smaller and more timid than the men we work alongside. Perhaps we even begin to see ourselves in the same way…
Of course, compulsive apologizing isn’t the only way we damage our own credibility as working women. Here are four more common phrases that send the signal to those around us that we aren’t fully up to facing the challenges we face.
As a young corporate lawyer, I used the word “just” in most of my emails. Fresh out of school, the emails I sent throughout the day to people who were more experienced often felt downright rude without this modifier.
“Just checking on the status of the report…”
“Just wanted to let you know…”
“Just in case I haven’t mentioned it before…”
I felt like they were interruptions to someone else’s day – interruptions I wasn’t important enough to justify. Although not quite an apology, the repeated use of the word “just” helped me feel like I was being less intrusive. It was as if I was saying, “It’s just me, not anyone important.”
I cringe now at the image my emails portrayed – a sacred, inexperienced young woman who wasn’t sure she really belonged in her seat at the table. What’s more, I undermined the important of the information I was providing.
“It’s just me. You can ignore what I’m saying, because it doesn’t really matter.”
It takes some practice to remove unnecessary “justs” from your vocabulary. But, once you start to pay attention to it, you’ll have a hard time noticing anything else. And what to do when you see it? In almost every instance, it’s okay to simply leave it out. You just don’t need it.
- I think (or feel or believe)
“I think we can get the project finished by Tuesday.”
“I believe our customers will love this new service.”
To establish your own credibility and authority, you must communicate assertively. Filler words like “I think”, “I feel” or “I believe” are the opposite of assertive.
Too often, they are hedge words that are meant to take the edge of what you’re saying, conveying that it’s nothing more than your opinion. The people you’re talking to already know you’re stating your own opinion, and going out of your way to make that obvious can underscore your sense of insecurity. It’s usually best to just eliminate these phrases.
When it is necessary to put conditions on your responses (as in the deadline example above), it’s better to rely on more powerful and assertive language. Perhaps, “I’m confident we can get the project finished by Tuesday.” Or, “I have no doubt we can meet your expectations.”
And if you’re not confident? Then maintaining credibility means owning up to it on the front end and engaging in an open and honest discussion.
- Like, Um, Filler Words
We all know that filler words such as “like” and “um” are a problem for many people. They give the impression that you are unprepared and uncomfortable. For listeners, they are distracting and take away from the message you are trying to convey.
At their heart, filler words are nothing more than innocuous words we use to fill silence and buy ourselves time to think. We would be much better off, however, simply allowing a brief pause in our conversations. They almost always go unnoticed, and assuming they aren’t awkwardly long, give the sense that you are poised and calm.
- Does That Make Sense?
Nothing sends the message that you are unsure of yourself more than asking your listener whether your words or ideas make sense.
We all have those moments, however, when we just aren’t sure we’re expressing ourselves clearly. That’s not likely to change. When faced with such a situation, it’s best to find more confident ways to check in. Asking, “Are we on the same page?” or “Do you have questions?” are two good options.
Establishing credibility and authority can be a long journey. While there’s no substitute for knowledge and skill, avoiding these common phrases can help ensure that your hard work gets the favorable attention it deserves.