Negative language women use

Your voice is powerful. What you say has a significant impact on how you are perceived by others, which, in turn, influences the doors that open to you.

Unfortunately, many women are in the habit of choosing words that undermine their expertise and achievements. Phrases like “Correct me if I’m wrong, but…” are all too common. So, too, are unnecessary apologies and overly qualified opinions.

Let’s examine this out-of-power language in a little more detail.

Hiding our brilliance

Most women love to talk. But when in the workplace, especially when in job interviews and negotiating job offers, we tend to dull our shine, second-guess ourselves, and be overly humble to the point of damaging our own chance at success. For example, women may feel more comfortable owing their achievements to “getting lucky” rather than working extremely hard. We may devalue our worth, agreeing to take less in exchange for flexibility. We might say sorry for things that aren’t our fault – “I’m so sorry, but those hours don’t work for me.”

It’s all too easy to fall into these detrimental speaking patterns. We assume people will respond negatively to what we have to say, so we stifle our opinions, weaken our stances, undermine our success to mitigate the risk.

Here are a couple of not-so-little-things that can cause us to come across as less competent:

• Using just. “I just wanted to follow up on…” “I just think we should…” Just makes us seem apologetic, even defensive, about what we are saying. It weakens our sentiment. Think about the difference between “I just feel that…” and “I feel that…”

• Using qualifiers. “I am not an expert, but…” “It’s just my opinion, but…” These phrases undermine our opinion before we even state it. We’re already on the backfoot before we begin.

• Using actually. “I actually think we should…” “I actually disagree…” This makes it sound like we are surprised by our own free thinking.

Of course, there’s no need to be arrogant, pushy, or boastful. But do be aware of the very real double-blind women face when speaking with the same level of confidence and assertiveness as men. When women take the helm, they are viewed as competent leaders but are often disliked – they are too bossy. When women take on nurturing roles, they are liked but viewed as incompetent leaders. There’s no way to win.

Changing our habits

Women bring substantial value to any team or group and not just in virtue of providing a different point-of-view. A study reported in the Harvard Business Review discovered that a business group’s collective IQ jumped significantly when women joined the team.

By using out-of-power language, we are not only doing a disservice to ourselves. We are limiting the success of our colleagues and organisation, too.

It’s time to change your habits and practice speaking more powerfully. Here are some quick swaps you can make day-to-day to own your presence and earn influence over others in the workplace and beyond:

I am sorry, but I can’t… > I can’t…
• I think I can… > I can…
• I will try to do… > I will do…
• I hope… > I know…
• I am no good at… > I have yet to learn…
• I’m not sure that will work… > That won’t work…
• If you have a moment, can you please… > Can you please…
• Am I making sense? > Reach out if you have any questions…

Enough with over qualifying your perfectly reasonable opinions. Enough with saying sorry for no reason at all. And enough with being excessively humble. We need more women in leadership positions. To make that a reality, we must stop dialling ourselves down in job interviews, in the workplace, and even in the home.

We don’t need to dilute our power to avoid disapproval anymore. By changing the way you speak, you can open up an exciting array of new opportunities. Start today.