How women undermine themselves with words
Last week Pieter presented himself in front of the group. It was conspicuous, since Pieter showed typical low-status behaviour that usually women display. Peter dodged, not standing right in front of the audience. He ended most of his sentences with the tone of his voice going up, as if he was not sure himself. Finally, he tilted his head slightly. All these tiny behavioural things add up and give the audience a sense of hesitance on account of the presenter.
Not only these tiny behavioural actions have an effect on the audience. It is the same with the use of certain words. Especially women tend to make themselves small by adding for instance tiny words in their sentences, when they communicate. Not only in conversations, but also in presentations.
What do women tend to do, often unconsciously, to make themselves small? And how does that effect the reactions of the audience or the person they converse with?
See down below an excerpt of a great interview with Tara Mohr, author of “Playing big”. (source: blog Goop). Where she meticulously unfolds these behavioural speech patterns. Do you recognize any of these?
What are the holes that you see women falling into most frequently when they speak?
Here are some of the “little things” women do in speech and writing that aren’t really “little.” In fact, they have a huge impact in causing us to come across as less competent and confident:
1)Inserting just: “I just want to check in and see…” “I just think…” Just tends to make us sound a little apologetic and defensive about what we’re saying. Think about the difference between the sound of “I just want to check in and see…” and “I want to check in and see…” or the difference between “I just think” and “I think…”
2) Inserting actually: “I actually disagree…” “I actually have a question.” It actually makes us sound surprised that we disagree or have a question—not good!
3) Using qualifiers: “I’m no expert in this, but…” or “I know you all have been researching this for a long time, but…” undermines your position before you’ve even stated your opinion.
4) Asking, “Does that make sense?” or “Am I making sense?”: I used to do this all the time. We do it with good intentions: We want to check in with the other people in the conversation and make sure we’ve been clear. The problem is, “does that make sense” comes across either as condescending (like your audience can’t understand) or it implies you feel you’ve been incoherent.
A better way to close is something like “I look forward to hearing your thoughts.” You can leave it up to the other party to let you know if they are confused about something, rather than implying that you “didn’t make sense.”
I get so many emails from women who are excited to share with me how people responded to them differently once they 1) stopped using the undermining phrases in their speech and writing and 2) communicated warmth in a more positive way (a friendly greeting and closing, for example).
Many women—especially more junior women—share that when they took all the qualifiers out of their emails, they started getting much quicker and more substantive responses to their requests.
Why do we use these speech habits?
That’s a great question. Some of it is simply habit. We hear other girls talking like this in our lives, and we absorb countless hours of women and girls talking like this in films and TV, and so we start doing the same.
There’s a deeper reason, too. Most women are unconsciously using these speech habits to soften our communications, to try to ensure we don’t get labeled—as women so often do—as bitchy, aggressive, or abrasive. We worry other people will perceive us that way, or we’ve got that internal monitor voice inside saying, “Don’t come across as bitchy!”
We put in the actuallys, the justs, the “I’m not an expert but…” to make sure we seem humble, nice, likable, which interferes as we try to get our ideas across.
I also believe that it’s because for centuries, women did not have the political and human rights to protect our safety if we spoke up and threatened or angered those around us. Of course we learned to soften our communication! But now, we don’t need to keep all those old patterns with us.
How should we start communicating more powerfully?
Don’t try to change all your undermining speech habits all at once! Pick one (Just? Actually? Does that make sense?”) and focus on it for the week. The goal is not to completely eliminate the word or phrase—that would be unrealistic. Instead, aim to notice when you hear yourself using it, and to course correct in the moment. Slow down and skim your emails before you send, notice where the undermining qualifier shows up, and edit it out! Practice, and you’ll slowly change the habit.