Some of you may react to this article with a shrug of your shoulders. You may be thinking, “As long as I do a good job and know my stuff, I will succeed.” Though doing a good job and knowing your area of expertise is critical, how you express your knowledge can be a game changer. Let’s face it, women have a disadvantage in the workplace. Period. It is in your best interest to have everything possible working for you. That is what I strongly recommend that you start paying close attention to your language. If you recorded yourself today, would you hear a woman who sounds assertive, confident, and powerful? Maybe not. In the media, I have been quoted saying, “Every time you open your mouth it’s a speaking opportunity.” When YOU open your mouth, are your words advancing your career or undermining it? You likely are presenting department reports, or pitching to a potential client, or speaking on a podcast. Unfortunately, you may have learned verbal habits that undercut your power in each of those situations. They are so entrenched you don’t notice you are using them. Sometimes you use these phrases intentionally, in an effort to be accepted, soften the blow, or seem less aggressive. Regardless of the foundational reason, it’s still causing you to shoot yourself in your High-Heeled foot.
There are many power-robbing phrases that I hear women use. The focus is going to be on three in this article: hedges, add-ons, and the indecisive “I”. Curb your inclination to be defense about this, I am not scolding or berating you, instead guiding you. We need every tool in our career tool belt.
- Eliminate hedges: By the time you are presenting at a meeting, to a client, or are on a Podcast, you have thought things through. You have a stance, perspective, or recommendation to make. You see it as the right direction. You have crunched the numbers, done research, or conferred with others. It’s not mere opinion. You may sound unsure, subjective, or tentative if you use hedges. Hedging may be your attempt at reducing rejection, but it has the opposite result. Consider these hedge statements:
- “This may not be important, but…”
- “I just wanted to say…”
- “In my opinion…”
- “This may not be right, but…”
“This may not be right, but I think shifting the marketing plan to a new target audience could be beneficial.” No doubt you recognize how the hedge under sells your well thought out direction.
- Eliminate add-ons: Add-ons, phrases added at the end of sentences, are frequently reflective of female learned behavior growing up. Keep the peace, don’t ruffle feathers, get along! Add-ons may be a sign of your leadership style. If you have a more collaborative than commanding leadership style, you are apt to use these phrases. If you are seeking collaboration, there are better verbal tools to use then add-ons. Your add-ons may be more a sign of easing your discomfort with taking a position. If you seek changing the marketing strategy, own it. This is the time to be persuasive, impactful, and convincing. You will recognize these add-ons:
- “don’t you think?”
- “isn’t it?
“Changing the target market is aligned with the company vision, right?” This add-on opens the door for controversy and dissent. Your collaborative efforts, fact-finding, and alternate perspectives need to come well before you take a stance.
- Eliminate I think and I feel: One of the disadvantages women have had for decades is the belief by many men that women are too emotional in the workplace. You see it in every industry, companies small and large, and in politics. In 2019, an analysis by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found 1 in 8 Americans believe women are not as emotionally suited as men to serve in elected office. This presents a significant barrier for women. We don’t want to do anything that reinforces this bias. Starting our sentences with the words “I think…” or “I feel…” is self-sabotaging. You can readily see the issue. By using this verbal habit, you are suggesting to others that this is merely an opinion, or you are speaking from an emotional response. Sometimes we DO have an emotional response to and issue and that may need to be expressed. But by starting every other sentence with I think, or I feel can be disastrous.
“I feel changing the target market will be align it with the company vision.” Are you convinced this is a valuable direction? If you are, say so. Surely, this is not just your gut talking. You’ve done your homework, say so. Followers of my articles, keynotes, workshops, and books will recognize tis quote from author and Pediatrician, Sally E. Shaywitz, MD, “To be someone, a woman doesn’t have to be more like a man, but she does have to be more of a woman.” Women are strong and powerful, let your language reflect that strength and power.
Are you concerned that you are undercutting your career with your speaking style? Many women face this problem, and it can be solved. If these and other challenges are preventing you from your goals in the workplace, guidance is only a click or a phone call away. Email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call (513) 561-4288 and we will set up a time for a complimentary 45-minute telephone consultation.