We must stop using language that undermines us and belittles us.
Your ideas, thoughts and opinions are exactly what the world needs. They are often bold, considered, practical and refreshingly unique, but so often they get lost in our language. They get lost when we downplay our own thoughts with words like “just” or “actually” and other phrases that diminish our ideas and opinions.
And, if we diminish ourselves, then we give others permission to do it too.
I get it. Lighten the ‘sting’ of being wrong in front of our colleagues by saying it ourselves first. But what if you aren’t wrong? What if your opinion was just that - an opinion? By adding statements on the front like “I could be wrong….”, or “I’m no expert here…” means you are already calling yourself out as wrong before you’ve even spoken. Therefore, why should people listen?
If we speak and write as if we are surprised by our own opinions, or unsure of what we are really saying, then we are opening the door to others to do the same. To not take us seriously, because WE do not appear to take ourselves seriously.
A few weeks ago, I put an Instagram story up with a bunch of phrases that I often hear or see women say when speaking up in meetings, when writing emails asking for something, when sharing an opinion, and to be totally honest, REALLY just in everyday life.
I also asked my community to share with me what phrases they often catch themselves saying and I was overwhelmed with the responses.
Here is just a snippet of what I received….
“Feel free to correct me if I am wrong …"
“Sorry, I might have put my foot in it…."
“I’m sorry” (When we are not sorry and haven’t actually done anything wrong)
“With all due respect…”
“When you have the time… “
“I really hope you don’t mind, but….”
“What are your thoughts on….”
“Can I ask a favour?”
“I might be off base here…”
“I could be wrong, but…”
“I’m just checking in on….”
“I’m actually thinking about….”
“I’m no expert in this, however…”
“I just wonder if….” (I disagree with you, but I don’t want to say that directly incase I upset you).
“Maybe we might think about…”
“Sorry for saying this, but…”
Do any of these feel familiar to you? I know these statements to be true, because I've said them too.
We try to be so ‘nice’ all the time with worry we may offend or upset someone, (and we have been taught that good girls can’t upset people), that we remove all confidence and assertion from our voices.
So, what do we do? How do we catch ourselves out?
- Re-read your emails prior to sending them and check for the above statements, or others like them. Remove words like 'just' and 'actually'. You were not “actually thinking” like it is a surprise to do so, you were straight up THINKING, like you do every day and with great success.
- Stop saying the reason why your opinion or idea might be wrong BEFORE you’ve even said it. You give others permission to not take it seriously too. And, above all else, your idea, thought or opinion is more than likely GREAT!
- Retrain your brain – get into the habit of reflecting at the end of a call or a meeting on the following - Did I make my point clearly and concisely? Was I clear in my opinion or idea? Did I give anyone reason to doubt my thoughts through my use of language? If so, that’s OK, this is part of the process. Learn from it and keep at it. Persistence is key.
- Get a wing woman – Share with someone that you are close to (in work or in life) and ask them to call you out every time they hear you undermine yourself through your language. Better yet, if you work with a group of women, take this challenge together and all call each other out on your language. Empower yourselves as a team. Becoming more aware of when you are doing it is the best way to start curbing the habit.
- Stop feeling guilty or bad for asking someone for something that is their responsibility – e.g. Do not apologise to the barista at your local cafe for requesting a spoon of sugar in your coffee. This is their job. You are not asking them a big favour. You are not troubling them. This is their job. You can still appreciate them by saying “thank you”, but you do not need to say “sorry”, or apologise for “bothering them”, or say that you “have a huge favour to ask”. Start taking this approach when you write emails, or when you ask someone for something that is completely reasonable.
- Make your statements statements and your questions questions. If you believe in something that needs to happen, state that you believe that. Don’t diminish it by turning a statement into a question like “Maybe we should consider adding another week to the project deadline”. State clearly “I believe we should add another week to the project deadline because…..”. Ya feel me?
The above suggestions are not all encompassing, and there will certainly still be times where softer language is required, or a gentler approach to sharing your thoughts is needed – your emotional intelligence will tell you this though. However, if you’ve ticked more than one of the above statements as something you do on a regular basis when communicating, then it something to get a handle on now my friend.
Your ideas ARE valuable. Your opinions ARE important. Let people hear them for what they are (which is fabulous!) and not covered up in extra words to soften the blow, or put the thought into people’s minds that your idea is wrong before you’ve even shared it.
Selling yourself with confidence is a critical skill for professional women in business (and in life!). Your ability to articulate your thoughts, ideas and opinions with assertion and with confidence is key to really being heard. The first step in all of this though is YOU believing in the value that you have to add. If this is an area you have trouble with, I am here to help.
Ask me about my latest coaching program dedicated to helping you sell yourself with confidence and be better prepared to speak up, step forward, and seize opportunities, instead of shying away from them.