The popular expression “half the sky” refers to the female half of the population and its equal share of responsibility in the world. And this has never been truer than today as Marissa Meyer takes over Yahoo and Hillary Clinton continues to navigate difficult diplomatic waters.
But I have to ask myself, why, amid the great strides this “half the sky” continues to make, women still sabotage themselves in the office. We do it with words. Certain speech habits can undermine our authority and make us appear less competent.
Here are some tips to avoid these “crimes of conversation” and keep your career on track.
Strike “actually” and “just” from your vocabulary
As in, “I was just thinking off the top of my head” (before offering a good idea) or “Actually I had a question” (as if your having a question is a surprise or a problem). Adding these and other disclaimers amount to pre-emptive apologies and condition those in the room to take you less seriously and what you have to say of less value. Your opinions matter, never shortchange yourself.
Nothing dumbs down a woman (or anyone) more than raising your pitch at the end of a sentence as if you’re asking rather than telling someone what you think. This bad habit gives the impression that you are unsure and tentative at best or stupid, at worst! One way to help overcome this tendency is to listen to women speakers whom you admire – Diane Sawyer, Cokie Roberts and Rachel Maddow are some good examples.
Pause and take breaths
When nervous, women in particular tend to talk in rushed, rambling sentences and actually fear pausing since any gap in conversation is naturally awkward. It is much more effective, however, to get your thought out and put a period at the end of it. Your audience will now find your points more thoughtful and consider you more confident and professional. Plus, the ball is now in “their” court, helping to bring the meeting to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion.
We’ve all been guilty of the above “crimes.” Any advice you would like to add?