I’ve seen THREE articles in the past week or two about language women use that automatically puts us in a position of submission. Here are links:
New York Times: Why Women Apologize and Should Stop – This article explains that women’s apologies are usually passive aggressive attempts at making someone else feel sorry, but rarely has that effect and often creates an inverse of the situation due to the unclear communication of the problem.
Business Insider: Google and Apple alum says using this one word can damage your credibility – The use of “just” by women is our way of asking permission. Permission to be included, to ask a request, or to make an apology for butting in to begin with.
Howlround Journal: Women Directors: Language Worth Repeating – Women directors often follow a note with an immediate undermining question such as “is that ok?” or “Does that make sense?” We think we are giving an opportunity for clarification but we are really giving the actor/designer an option to discount the note.
A friend also pointed out she recently read an article about women nodding at all things, while men only nod when they agree. Hmm.
I have already stopped apologizing in emails for things that I have no real reason to apologize for. It was hard at first – I had to go back and read drafts a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t apologizing or excusing myself in some way inadvertently. And trust me, ladies, you will see you do it to yourself a whole lot more than you think. And in ways that aren’t necessarily “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Giving reasons for why this or that happened in a particular way is not needed, especially if they were out of your control and the client/partner/whoever has no idea that it didn’t happen according to plan anyway.
As for the “just” article – I know I am guilty of this one. In fact, I’ve even used it in a joking manner blatantly because I realize that its exactly how I would say something to apologize for saying it WHILE saying it. And I continue to use it anyway. “I just work here.” “I just wanted to ask..” “I’d just like to see the draft of this before I’m asked to sign it.” It creates a meek encounter and its no wonder there are few results with this language. And it sets up follow ups to be apologetic in nature as well. How much more submissive could I be?
The Howlround piece really struck a chord with me, since it is about women directors in theater specifically. Am I guilty of undermining the notes I give to actors? Probably. But I am not going to apologize about it. Instead, I will tell you that moving forward I am going to be more conscious of the direction and instructions I give verbally. I encourage other women to do the same. We cannot continually undermine ourselves with our language (verbal or not)! Not only does it send mixed messages to the people we should be communicating most clearly with but it gives them easy outs.
In fact, as we adjust to our more powerful communication stance, keep in mind that what you say is what you are. (And you always thought it was what you eat, ha!) Check this out: Words can Change Your Brain.
Talk to me in the comments! Have you inadvertently been using submissive language? What words or phrases have you found to put you in a position of power instead of submission?