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A Cautionary Heads-Up for Women: Words…. Words…. Words

There has been a flurry of recent articles sounding a cautionary alarm for women. It appears some of the words we use—more often than men—are harming us at work.

  • Shannon Doyne’s “I’m Sorry.” Women say, “I’m Sorry” even when they don’t mean it literally as an apology. We use it as a bridge to begin a conversation: “I’m sorry, boss, am I interrupting?”

Or we say, “I’m sorry” as we brush against someone in the hallway. The male executive is wondering what that was all about yet, recognizes the woman gave status away. When was the last time you heard a leader offer up a superfluous “I’m sorry?”

A senior executive gave Shannon this insightful advice: “Stop saying ‘sorry!’ You don’t need to unless you really did do something wrong, O.K.? The team and customers will think that you aren’t confident when you always apologize!”

  • Ellen Petry Leanse’s “Just.” She believed the “J” word was being used more by women than men so put it to the test. In a mixed gender group, Ellen asked two entrepreneurs (gal and guy) to do a three-minute presentation on their startup. The audience secretly tallied the number of “Justs” in each delivery. The female used “Just” either five or six times whereas the male said it once.

 And what does “Just” often mean anyway? It’s nothing much. If the sentence is correct without “Just;” eliminate it.

  • Nancy Fredericks’ “I’ll Try.” No, I haven’t written an article, but I sure have done a lot of coaching with women clients regarding it.

What does your “I’ll Try” signify? Are you saying: “I can practically guarantee I will get this finished on time? However, I hate to fail, and I want to look good, so I’m giving myself a ‘get out of jail free’ card?”

Start saying, “I intend” or “I will.” How much more in-control will that sound to your boss rather than leaving room to fail?

Or do you use the phrase because: “I am unsure I can complete the project with everything else on my plate?

Start saying: “I already have projects ‘x,’ ‘y,’ ‘z’ on my desk. All three of them appear to have a higher priority than this one. With this in mind, I can’t promise to accomplish it until… Are you in agreement with my priorities or would you like me to change one of the other project’s due dates?” This style of communication demonstrates your leadership skills over the urgent and not as urgent priorities on your desk.

Do you find “I’m sorry,” or “Just,” or “I’ll Try” sprinkled liberally throughout your interactions with others? If you do, understand that you are negatively impacting how the movers-and-shakers in your organization perceive you. I also suggest that at an unconscious level continually expressing such weak verbiage is undermining how powerful you feel about yourself as well.

Eliminating such utterances from your lexicon will have you recognized in the organization for who you are—an accomplished, intelligent, confident woman everyone wants on their team!

I’d just like to say I’m sorry. I just did the best I could on this blog. I’ll try to do better next time.

Shannon Doyle’s article: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/do-you-or-people-you-know-apologize-all-the-time/?_r=0

Ellen Petry Leanse’s article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/just-say-ellen-petry-leanse

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