women execs: lose the “wimpy language” to be heard

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Have you noticed that women in the workplace communicate differently than men? The subject has come up yet again in an article by former Google and Apple executive Ellen Peatry Leanse. She recently noted in Business Insider the way many women executives weaken their positions by peppering their speech with excessive use of the word “just.”

“I’m just checking in.” “I’m just wondering if you’ve decided between…” “If you could just answer this question.”

Says Leanse, the habit is a bad one that sends a message of deference and subordination instead of confidence and high skill. To prove her point, she ran an experiment in a room of entrepreneurs who were making presentations about their companies. While the presenters were outside, she asked the audience to tally the number of times each speaker said “just.”

Guess what happened? When the woman entrepreneur spoke, the audience caught her in the habit five times; maybe six. When the man spoke? Only once.

And “just” is not the only word that diminishes credibility. Think about the hedge words like “sort of,” “pretty much,” “kind of,” and “maybe.” Or the intensifiers like “really,” “definitely,” “absolutely,” and “totally.” And think how much more powerful every phrase becomes when you leave these words out.

There are the filler words: “Um,” “Uh,” “Er,” “Ah,” or “Like I said.” (Okay, there are plenty of men who are guilty of these particular infractions. But they serve none of us well.)

There’s the over apologizer who peppers every conversation with “sorry,” which translates to the audience or listener, “I am weak.”

There is “Valley Speak.” “I was, like, all nervous to give that speech. It was, like, … and then she was all…”

There’s the habit of “uptalk” (raising the pitch of your voice at the end of each sentence, as if it’s a question). In addition to annoying listeners, it makes speakers sound entirely uncertain of any of the things they have said.

And there’s another vocal affectation women are increasingly adopting these days, known as “Vocal Fry,” (or “talking like a Kardashian”) in which your voice wanders into a low vibration sound at the end of your thoughts as you speak. (Yes, you’ve heard it.)

So does this mean that women need to talk like men to be taken seriously in the world of business? In my opinion, not at all. Women’s perspectives are unique and valuable. We are exceptional at seeing and sensing the nuances of conversation that are otherwise missed. Our sensitivities often mirror the sensitivities of our market and customers. We bring keen intuition and fresh ideas. Research shows that boards and management teams that include women are stronger and more profitable by an average of 20%. As I have noted in previous articles, our influence in business is here to stay.

But to participate as meaningfully as possible in today’s diversified workplace, it would benefit us all, women and men, as we aspire to greater positions of influence, that we learn to leave our affinities for wimpy language behind.

By cheryl snapp conner
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