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shutterstock_201512414-753691-edited.jpgNineteen. That’s how many times, in a recent 30-minute team meeting, I heard a woman say “just.”


“I just think we can …” “I’m just checking …” “I just want to be sure …”

Why was I doing all this counting? Because I recently learned that “just” undermines women’s expertise – and in turn, women’s advancement – at work. Using “just” implicitly conveys asking permission to express authority or an opinion, and can even be characterized as an apology for doing so. Realizing that I and many other smart, talented, accomplished women could be held back – even slightly – at work by a four-letter word made me want to scream, well … a few other four-letter words.

Nixing the “j word” in workplace communication was one of the constructive takeaways from “Lead Like a Girl,” a breakout session during the Women in HR Tech workshop at the HR Technology Conference & Expo. The session, led by Tacy Byham, CEO of Development Dimensions International, highlighted verbal and nonverbal subtleties that demonstrate cracks in women’s assertiveness, and may chip away at their successes. In addition to “just,” here are three other communication killers that can hinder women in advancing at work:

  1. We. But there’s no “I” in team, right? True enough. There are I’s in raises and promotions, though, and as Byham pointed out, “unless you’re taking your entire team with you to your next role, you need to talk about what ‘I did,’ not what ‘we did.’”
  1. Think and/or feel. Women need to mentally promote themselves, Byham said. When they do, they project more confidence in their expertise. That automatically starts to shift statements from “I think” and “I feel” to “I know.” Although being unassuming and differential has traditionally helped women make their strong points of view more palatable, Byham said it’s time for a new perspective: “Stop self-effacing your accomplishments!”
  1. Sorry. Literally speaking, Byham said, “Stop apologizing your way to the table with statements like, ‘I may be wrong, but …,’ or ‘Sorry to ask, but …’” Figuratively, she added that too often women apologize inwardly and take too much blame for mistakes. “Don’t strive not to fail, but rather FAIL forward (First Attempt In Learning) to put yourself in a better position in the future.”

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