Ever find yourself using the phrase “Correct me if I’m wrong, but… ?” or talking down your achievements?
It’s time to stop.
Women often undermine their power by speaking in “out of power ways.” How you speak — from the words you use to how you string them together— makes a huge impact on how you’re perceived which, in turn, profoundly impacts the influence you build, doors you open, and the success of your career (among other things!)
Of course, most women love to talk. On some days you might even hear us roar!
Unfortunately, on other days, you may hear us second-guess ourselves, play down our achievements, or apologize for our opinions before we’ve even shared them.
Too often, we women use what is called ‘Out-of-Power’ language and engage in patterns of speech that keep us from showing up with our full quota of brilliance, power, and presence. For example, we often apologize for holding a view that others may disagree with or attribute our success to ‘getting lucky’ (rather than working our tail off!) To be clear, I’m not advocating for being boastful or arrogant (there’s enough of that circulating already). I’m also fully mindful of the well documents double-bind women can face for speaking with the same assertiveness as men. I’d just love to see more of the immensely talented, clever and capable women I meet owning their full worth and expressing themselves with the same self-assurance I far more frequently witness in men.
What women bring to any team or group is incredibly valuable. In fact, a study reported in Harvard Business Review found that a business group’s collective IQ went up significantly when women were part of the team. Yet despite the incredible value that women have, we too often second guess that value and hold back from saying the very things that most need to be heard. What we don’t realize is that by using ‘out-of-power’ language for fear of causing offense or being less informed or articulate as others, we do a disservice to ourselves, our colleagues and the mission of our organization.
In ‘The Language of Female Leadership’, Dr Judith Baxter reported that women are four times more likely to use ‘Out-of-Power’ language, including engaging in ‘double-voice discourse.’ Double-voice discourse occurs when we assume that someone will respond negatively to what we have to say and so we qualify our opinion to mitigate the risk. For instance, “Correct me if I’m wrong…” or “I know I’m not the ultimate expert on this…“ or “It’s just my opinion, but…”
If there’s something you genuinely want to say, chances are there is someone who genuinely needs to hear it. Likewise, just because your opinion may not be one that everyone agrees with doesn’t mean you should apologize for it. Expressing your opinion confidently may not increase your power by four times its current level, but it will almost certainly amplify your ‘personal brand’ as a woman of influence and will earn you the respect that nodding nicely or apologizing profusely never will.
As you already know, we need more women seated at decision making tables. Many more. The world over. To make that a reality we must stop dialing ourselves down to fit in or diluting our opinions to avoid disapproval.
So, enough with overly qualifying your opinions to mitigate the risk of fall out, saying sorry when you’ve done nothing wrong, being overly humble. As my fellow author and activist Marianne Williamson once said to me “ There is nothing holy in diminishing yourself !” When we talk ourselves down we only dim our light and dilute our ability to make things better.
The following list of examples will help you practice speaking more powerfully so that, with time and practice, you gradually embody the presence of a powerful woman who commands attention and influences outcomes. The first phrase uses language that is qualifying, passive and imprecise and thereby limits your power, presence, and impact on others. The second phrase uses language that is positive, specific and declarative and puts you firmly in command, making someone others want to listen to.
I think I can do that > I can do that
I should do that> I could do that if I wanted to
I’m hopeless at> I’m learning how to
I will try > I will do
I’m nervous > I’m excited
I hope I can > I’m confident I will or I know I will
It’s really hard > It’s a great challenge
Might you be able to do this for me? > Can you do this for me?
I’m no good at > I have yet to learn how…
There are countless ways women can, and must, exercise their personal agency to affect positive change in their workplace, communities and beyond. By changing how you speak, something that is entirely within your power, you set a off a ripple effect that can lead to a vast horizon of new possibilities and opportunities.
Unsure where to start?
How about this. As you move ahead in your day, pay extra attention to what you are saying, how you are saying it, and any words or phrases you commonly use that could be undermining you. Consider asking a colleague or friend to listen more attentively and to let you know when you are using passive, imprecise or disempowering phrases that diminish how you show up. Replace them with empowering ones and then notice how, by changing what you say, your words shift the way others respond to you. More so, notice how that shifts how you feel in yourself.
Your words shape your reality; your conversations build your currency of influence.
So own your value, stand tall in your worth, speak your opinion and dare to bring your full quota of brilliance to every conversation.
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