I read a lot about women and leadership, and women and confidence, and it occurred to me recently that at some point along the way, this reading led me to adjust my communication style and content. There are words and phrases that used to be part of my regular vocabulary that I rarely, if ever, use now at work. I don’t know that eliminating them was or is the right answer, but I do think that this topic is good food for thought.
I don’t say “sorry.” Women apologize too much. The first time I saw this Pantene commercial, I was almost in awe by how much it resonated – after I processed it, I promptly shared it with all of my girlfriends, who had similar reactions. The truth of it still gets to me even today. I also like this Twitter post that has the same idea:
In the beginning it took some conscious effort to screen my emails for sorry, and to find a suitable substitute, but now it is second nature. I’ve also learned to say “Excuse me” instead of “I’m sorry” when I bump someone in a crowded hallway or elevator. Apologizing when I’ve done something wrong is of course the right thing to do, but apologizing for simply being is not.
I don’t say “I think.” I’m not sure how universal this one is to all women, but I know that I have a tendency to preface my sentences with this phrase, even when I am sure about what I’m saying. Maybe it’s socialization; maybe it’s a protective measure in case I am wrong. But either way, I am over it. To my ears, even the phrase “I believe” sounds more confident than “I think.” Sometimes it’s a challenge, and occasionally in meetings I find myself reverting back – but in general, the less I use this phrase, the more confident and assertive I come across, as I should!
And, I don’t say “just.” Frankly, it is amazing to me how differently a sentence reads when I remove this word. For instance, in an email: “I am writing to see when you might have time to discuss this patient” versus “I just wanted to see when you might have time to discuss this patient.” Or, in a conference: “I just don’t know that cathing him was the right answer” versus “I don’t know that cathing him was the right answer.” Even though the meat of the content is unchanged, I feel that I instantaneously sound less immature and less whiny without that additional word. When I am sure of myself, and that is how I feel, then that is how I should sound.
Language is personal, and things that hold true for me may not be universal. Still, I find the idea of reflecting on this topic to be of value – because the truth is, we’re good at our jobs, and we shouldn’t be saying things that interfere with the perception of that truth.