Words Matter

I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.

- John Calvin

Yep, I went there. Women helping women is not just coaching, mentoring or sponsoring; it's about making certain the talent, education, and experience each of us brings to the table is not overlooked or dismissed. One quick fix for each of us is how we communicate.

My husband recently pointed out that I say “For What It’s Worth” before I share a thought and I can attest that this is not something I used to do. I asked him to point out each time I do it and sadly, it was so common that his help became annoying; but it forced me to examine my speech and question why this was new in my lexicon.

I’ve coached junior women to stop saying, “I feel” before sharing their thought and replace that with either “I think” or just simply stating their thought, providing input in a meeting or stating an opinion. Long ago, one of the best and brightest I’ve had the privilege to know, was selling herself short, She was bubbly, bouncy, pretty and full of head tilts and a head voice.  You know the sound of the head voice, it’s a mixture of little girl and Minnie Mouse.  

She and I were sitting down to dinner at a conference and I suggested she may want to change her tone when speaking to clients and she tilted her head again. We were also friends so I knew some of her background and was aware that she was programmed to be pleasing and pretty but no one had ever really honored her for her mind. 

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Women who speak from their chest, throat or deep in the diaphragm, sound more authoritative and are naturally more trusted and taken seriously. (think of the voices of Nicole Kidman, Ellen Pompeo, Kerry Washington and Nora O’Donnell). I assured her that her pretty face and smile would make many underestimate her and that was to her advantage. “Let them”, I said, “then use your authority, intelligence and experience.”

Listen to your voice this week or ask a colleague for feedback. Is there an upward inflection? Are you saying ‘like’ or ‘you know" or worse, "umm"?  I was listening to a popular podcast by two women interviewing Sally Krawcheck and the ONLY reason I stayed tuned in was because I wanted to hear what Sally had to say. The two young women interviewing her had upward inflections and said "umm" so much I was irritated. Pay attention to the way you talk in meetings or with clients and count the ‘I feels’.  It’s not a disaster that these words creep in but it is a clue. Over the last few months, I’ve been asked a great deal of questions around career building, extra advice on negotiating, and even when it is time to go or stay.  Building this site and business are a direct result of those conversations but when I step back and get honest with muself, the injection of “For What It’s Worth” has been added when I am venturing into new territory. Selling for decades, leading teams for just as long, navigating huge corporations and teams across the globe? Those are in my DNA, but building  a company and community? Scary and new. My language was a clue to my anxiety and self-doubt.

Let’s work at this together.  Stop apologizing at work unless you've made a mistake. You are not sorry to do anything unless you've made a mistake.....say that again. Listen to see how many men in your company or team start any sentence with "Sorry to bother you".  We can stop calling one another “Girls”  in the office and we can start by truly listening to one another and ourselves. It's fine if you catch yourself using some of these phrases or if you hear a woman you trust using it. Just correct it, be mindful. When we recognize it, we can address it and take some mental inventory about why we are making ourselves small to contribute and collaborate.

We're in this together. 

 

Dorothy Johnson, 2018