Girl, Stop Using Weak Language At Work3 min read

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How many times did you hear these statements while growing up: “You shouldn’t ask questions!”, “Do not speak when elders talk”, “Lower your voice when speaking.”?

If you are a woman, chances are many times. When you tell a young girl that she needs to hush up, because of her gender, chances are she will grow into a woman who hesitates to express her thoughts strongly or just stays quiet.

Let me give you my own example. When discussing the topic of this article, I said: “I would just like to say that I feel that women undermine their credibility time and time again by using minimising language. I understand that I may not know as much as a communication expert, but it is what I feel.”

This one sentence says it all. By using words such as ‘just’, ‘I feel’, and literally saying that I may not have enough expertise, I have reduced my credibility to zero and undermined my opinion.

As women, we tend to use weak or passive language that just waters down our message. By being selfless, accommodating and self-effacing, we make others doubt our credibility. Especially at the workplace, this attitude puts us at a disadvantage, compared to our male counterparts who talk loud and firm.

It is incredibly important to be a good communicator at work. The ability to communicate effectively and confidently has the potential to advance our careers, whereas using weak language will sabotage our efforts at presenting ourselves with authority and confidence.

Do you recognise yourself falling into the trap of weak language? Here’s how you can turn it around.


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Replace Meaningless Words

In the Harvard Business Review article Replace Meaningless Words with Meaningful Ones, communication expert Jerry Weissman advises us to replace meaningless weak words with stronger ones. A simple word replacement can change the impact of our overall communication. Replacing terms like ‘I think’, ‘I believe’, and ‘I feel’, for stronger choices such as ‘I’m confident’, ‘I’m convinced’, ‘I expect’ makes a positive impact on how our message is perceived.

Stop Using Taglines

“With this method, we have high chances of delivering a good product, don’t you think?”, “This is a great idea, isn’t it?” These are examples of weak language, which uses taglines at the end of sentences. Authors Victoria Simon and Holly Pedersen suggest that a tagline at the end of a sentence weakens the statement as well as the authority of the speaker. It communicates that the speaker is not completely confident, so must ask for reassurance. Phrases such as ‘Don’t you think’ and ‘Isn’t it’ weakens your voice. So, get rid of them.

Don’t Over-Apologise

Over-apologising is a problem most of us struggle with every day. The repetition of the word ‘sorry’ in each sentence may not seem to be harmful, but it undermines your authority and confidence and gives the impression that you are indecisive. There are times when an apology is necessary, but we need to recognise where it is not, to make the real apologies meaningful. Knowing how to use the word is the first step to putting an end to this behaviour. Start by recording how many times you apologise for certain situations and then work on using them only when required.

Stop Including Uncertain Questions

Is this logical? Perhaps this is a silly idea? Does it make sense?   We often tend to say these words after explaining a complex idea. By saying these words, you undermine yourself, and the amazing plan that you just brought to the table. Instead of opening it up for dialogue, you have caused a state of uncertainty and doubt. Including such uncertain questions at the end of your presentation expresses your disdain for the intelligence of your audience, who is interested in what you offer. Replace the doubtful tone with phrases such as “What do you think of this idea?”.

Don’t Excessively Use ‘Only’

‘Only’ is a filler word that weakens your speech, more than any other phrase. When you use the word ‘only’ in an e-mail or during a meeting, it seems harmless, but puts you in a challenging position. Pay attention when using the word. For best practice, read your emails after writing them and remove all the ‘only’ that do not serve your message.

Think Before Saying ‘Yes’

Although you must say ‘yes’ to promising new opportunities, you do not want to take on tasks beyond your abilities. Be sure to prioritise your responsibilities before agreeing to help someone else, by replacing ‘yes’ with ‘maybe’. Agreeing to do every task, signals your availability and, at times, can take value away from your responsibilities. Ensure that you are on schedule and can devote time to help others’ work before committing.

Courage is the foundation of successful communication and successful communication is the foundation of great achievement. It is difficult to strive for respect and make people hear your voice clearly. But fearless communication does not mean that you have to be aggressive or masculine at work. The challenge instead, is to be direct and assertive. Be yourself, be authentic and communicate fearlessly.

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