As women, and particularly young women, we are often diminishing ourselves, and not owning our full power, simply by the way we speak. In both verbal and written communication, you might not realize the ways you are undermining your knowledge, credibility, and strength through your word choices and speech patterns.
I recently finished Tara Mohr's book Playing Big, which I highly recommend and which I will be posting a full book review about on the blog. Mohr's pages are filled with guidance about stepping into your true potential as a strong woman by conquering internal fears and struggles, as well as increasing your external presence and impact. The chapter that stood out to me the most highlights 10 words/phrases/speech habits that women often say that, even if unconscious, weaken our messages. After reading that, I am constantly noticing the habits that I have, and that the women around me have, that dilute our speech, and I am now working to correct them so my thoughts and my work are succinct, direct, and impactful. I'm sharing my summary of, and additions to Mohr's speech habits to watch out for here so you can catch yourself when you use them as well, allowing your self-expression to be full-strength.
1. Eliminate the word “just”
“I just wanted to check in…”
"Just" diminishes the importance of what you’re saying.
2. Watch out for “actually”
“I actually think…”
As Mohr says, “‘Actually’ makes it sound as if you are surprised that you have a question or that you disagree, (page 183)," and it might make your audience surprised too.
3. Catch “Kind Of/Almost”
“I kind of think…”
“I would almost say…”
These words are called hedges, and are proved to be used more by people with less power and in lower-status positions. You don't want to be one of them.
4. Save "sorry" for when you are apologizing
- When I was growing up my mom used to always tell me not to say "sorry" for the sake of saying it. She would say "don't apologize for existing. Women do that too much." She was right. Not only do we not need to apologize for having thoughts and for not doing anything wrong, but over-using sorry also weakens it for when you do need to apologize for something. When you use the word "sorry," be genuinely remorseful for something.
5. "A little bit" can give away big power
"I'd like to tell you a little bit about my business..."
"I just need a little bit of your time..."
- Using "a little bit" implies that what you are saying does not deserve much space or time, and belittles the content you are delivering.
6. Un-claim Disclaimers
"I'm no expert, but..."
This is just an idea, but..."
- This is a big one for me! I think using disclaimers comes from a fear of coming off as arrogant, or perhaps a fear that the thought we are about to share will not be well-received, so we set it up to seem like we aren't that attached to what we are saying, or that we don't know if it has any value. Let your listener decide if the idea needs some work or if it doesn't apply to that particular situation. Don't offer that your thought isn't complete, because maybe it is already effective/astute/thoughtful.
7. Assume things make sense
Ending a statement or an entire presentation with "Does that make sense?"
This suggests that you think what you said might not have been coherent, articulated clearly, and that you assume you are hard to understand. Trust your listener to ask for clarification if they need it.
8. Watch Your Tone & Voice Quality
- Mohr mentions specifically uptalk, which is when the pitch of your voice is higher at the end of a sentence, implying that there is a question being asked, or that you are unsure of the statement. Avoiding a singsong voice quality makes your speech more authoritative, strong, and empowered. Also noting your pace of speaking, not speaking too quickly or too slowly, feeling comfortable with well-placed pauses, and enunciating your words clearly all make you a more powerful and convincing speaker.
9. Deliver one idea at a time, don't keep piling on.
- "I really want to tell you about my new business, it's something that you maybe have heard me talk about before, and I know it's something I have been working on for a long time, and you might think maybe too long, but I have made a lot of progress on it, specifically in reaching new clients, although it did take me a while to figure out how to reach those clients, but now I am working with more clients, so I wanted to tell you more about the work..."
- This is clause after clause after clause. This type of speaking tends to get heightened when we are nervous. It sounds manic and unclear, and that the you feel the need to over-explain everything you are saying.
- Instead, just deliver a thought, and see how it lands. Then decide what to say next. Allow for pauses to gather information from your listener, as well as to gather your own thoughts. As Mohr says "punctuate and pause," (page 186).
10. Don't ask, tell.
- Don't ask a question, when you really need to make a statement.
- Instead of saying in a meeting "What do you think about hosting an event to connect with more people?" try "Since our goal is to grow our audience, let's try hosting an event to connect with new people."
- It's ok to have a clear opinion, suggestion or point of view, and to make it known. You don't need to ask a question because you are afraid the statement is too direct. Don't be afraid to speak your mind.
I hope you'll use this list to be more mindful about the way you speak, and to catch yourself when you are undermining your experience, skills, and brilliance. You can also buy Tara Mohr's book Playing Big on Amazon. Let your speech convey your big plans and ideas, and notice the increase in your impact.