7 Words and Phrases that Take Away Your Power

Ditch these "permission" words and get more respect from colleagues, readers...and yourself

by Samantha Pollack

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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.

I think

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.

And when you feel clear and powerful? You act like it.

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Samantha Pollack
Samantha Pollack traveled a winding road through personal training, health coaching, and the restaurant business, before hitting her stride as a full-time writer. In 2010, she bid a fond “peace out” to her demanding career in Boston and relocated to the mountains of Asheville, NC. Since then, she’s launched (and ...read more

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Read 3 comments

  1. Brad Minus

    Great..Great post. I realized after I read the content, that I use most of these phrases on a daily basis. I am amazed at how wordy my writing is and how much stronger it could be by simply dramatically reducing or completely removing this dialogue.
    This is the most valuable post I have read in a long time. Thank you.
    Brad Minus recently posted…NYC Marathon 2015: Goof Race RecapMy Profile

  2. Pauline

    So much to be taken from this. It has been so important to my personal and professional development to find my voice. I can use this as a way to combat myself less. Thanks.

  3. Susan Dorrington

    What a great article. You hit the nail on the head with these disempowering words. I agree that we don’t need to pull others up on the words they are using all the time (ie. don’t be a word nazi), but when we become more aware of words or phrases that we personally use a lot that take away our power, we can begin to make that subtle change over time and really grow into the powerful human being each and every one of us has inside of us. Thanks for your insight. 🙂
    Susan Dorrington recently posted…The Importance of Decision MakingMy Profile