It’s amazing what a vacation can do for clarity of mind. About two days into my “momcation” – as I was basically live-tweeting my solo jaunt into Canada – I finally internalized the message: Women say too much and we’re hurting ourselves.
Before you get your torches and pitchforks, hear me out. At the time this epiphany came to me, I was attempting to explain a concept through Twitter’s strict 140-character restrained format and realized that there was no way I was going to make my point by dancing around the details. I felt the need to ‘soften the blow’ of what I was saying, even though it was in no way combative or even controversial. We do this a lot, ladies.
If you’re reading my articles, you’ve likely also seen other authors’ articles on how women apologize too much, or maybe you’ve seen this fantastic “Sorry, Not Sorry” ad from Pantene in 2014. Here’s a great article about an informal experiment the writer, Lindsey Stanberry, did with her colleagues. The most important learning from her experiment is not the frequency of apologizing superfluously, but rather the reason why these women felt the need. As Stanberry summarizes, “[her female colleagues] all said they apologized in moments when they felt uncomfortable asserting their authority.”
Without harping on the abuse of the word “sorry” (or any of the other specific, submissive phrases we tend to overuse: “like,” “just,” “I feel,” “Does this make sense?” or any other phrase that undermines everything else you just said…), the point is: when you try to frame your statements as non-combatively as possible, a few things happen:
- Your statements become questions, as if you’re asking for permission to speak.
- You are no longer clearly communicating your point.
- You have removed any authority you may have had on the subject. You’ve effectively given everyone in the room permission to disregard everything you just said.
I am guilty of this myself. I abuse “does this make sense?” way more than I’d like to admit. The key to getting out of this (and any) habit is self-awareness:
- Notice and acknowledge to yourself when you slip up. Don’t try to correct on the spot. You’ll naturally begin to stop the habit the more you notice when you do it.
- Ask yourself why you felt like you needed to wrap up your statement with a pretty “please?” bow. Work through that underlying reasoning and determine what you can do to avoid it in the future.
- Actively build up your self-confidence. Silence that inner voice of doubt – you are not an imposter. Give yourself credit for your expertise and your knowledge. You have something to contribute. You belong in the room, so stop selling yourself short.
Does this mean you should remove these words from your vocabulary altogether, as some suggest? No, of course not. Aside from the fact that it’s completely impractical to expect you to just delete words from your mental word library, these words do have powerful impact when used correctly. As you can see in my article on humble leadership and the power of apology, a sincere apology when you are actually at fault is one of the most powerful tools a leader has.
The critical takeaway here is to stop caveating your communications. If you can make your point in 140-characters (or a few succinct statements) or less, do it. Stick to the minimum words required to be effective. Then, stop.