A few months ago, I came across this article from Business Insider, calling attention to most women’s overuse of the word “just” – what it implies, how it undermines your authority, how it’s a “permission” word. And how men don’t use it as often (or at all.)
I tried an experiment of my own, and noticed that I too abuse the word “just.”
I used it in professional situations: “I just wanted to check on your progress with the draft I delivered last week. How’s it coming?”
I used it in emotional discussions with my husband: “I just feel like I’m the only one who ever does the dishes/cleans the litter box/cooks dinner.” (Which is true, by the way.)
Not that the men in my life noticed, but I slowly removed the word from my vocabulary – and guess what? It’s completely unnecessary.
Not only that, it IS a permission word. It’s as if I’m saying, “So sorry for having an opinion, a need, or a thought that disrupts your day. My apologies for sticking to the deadline we agreed upon, or bothering you to request a follow-up conversation, or telling you to wake the F up and start helping me with the housework.”
Look what happens when you remove it:
“I’m checking in on your progress with that draft I delivered last week.”
“I’m the only one who ever does the dishes.”
So much more oomph, right?
What other words and phrases steal our power away? Let’s ditch ‘em.
If you’re speaking, it’s obvious you’re saying what you think. Especially in your writing, this phrase needs to go. If someone is listening to you or reading your work, they obviously want to know what YOU think, not someone else. So ditch the qualifier; it gives your statements more punch.
Read the following two sentences. Which one
do you think has more power?
“I think we overuse the word ‘just.’ I think it’s a permission word.”
“We overuse the word ‘just.’ It’s a permission word and it MUST BE STOPPED.”
(Okay, I added that last part.)
In the first version, the words don’t have any sticking power. You skim over them and move on.
The second version might cause some strong reactions. People might read it and think I’m a bitch, or a fussy grammar nerd, or just plain wrong. (See, in that sentence, it works.) The point is, they will react. Which is the point.
The same is true for similar phrases like:
In my opinion…
It seems to me…
I feel like…
‘Course then you have the double whammy, “I just feel like you’re not taking me seriously.”
Words are fun.
Is there any way…
“Is there any way we could push this deadline to next week? I am booked to capacity right now and can’t give your project the attention it deserves.”
This one’s tricky, because we’re just trying to be polite, right?
Let’s try that again. We’re only trying to be polite? We really want to be seen as polite.
We’re trying to be polite, dammit.
There’s nothing wrong with asking a question in this way. But there IS a more assertive way to get your point across.
“Hi Bill. I’m swamped this week and am going to have to move your project to next week. Apologies for the delay.”
The issue with the first question is that it gives the responder the option to say, “No Judy, I’m sorry. There is NO WAY I can give you more time on this project. Guess you’re pulling an all-nighter tonight!”
It’s not clear. If what you really need is more time, then that’s what you have to say. We may have been taught to be polite and soft-spoken, but since when did men ever pick up on subtlety? You need to tell them what’s up.
Another qualifier. “Actually Jim, I disagree.”
“I actually don’t like having this meeting at 4pm on Fridays.”
This one is actually just unnecessary (teehee.) It’s another timid lead-in to asserting a strong opinion. Like you’re prepping old Jim for a BIG shock.
“Jim, I disagree.” BOOM!
“Having this meeting at 4pm on Fridays sucks, Jim.”
(I know you wouldn’t really say that in a professional setting. But you see my point, yes?)
I’m not trying to tell you how to talk. We have enough to worry about without nitpicking every word and phrase to ensure we are always promoting gender equality every second of our lives. Talk about disempowering.
Many of these words are simply part of the vernacular. There’s no intention behind them per se, but by bringing a bit more awareness to the way we speak and write, we can up our game big time.
By removing these little disempowering words and phrases, you come across with more clarity and decisiveness. More importantly, you feel more clear and assertive. You have the experience of expressing your needs simply, without a qualifier.