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Dawn Leane of, , supports ambitious women in developing their professional brands and navigating the unwritten rules and norms of behaviours in business. In this blog post, she explores the ways in which language impacts how others perceive us.

‘I just wanted to ask…’ ‘Can I just check..’ ‘Sorry to bother you…’

Take a moment to reflect on your most recent conversations and emails. How many of these, and other, qualifiers have you used in the last few days?

We often fail to realise the impact – or perhaps that should be lack of impact – associated with the use of qualifying words.

When we use words like ‘just’ we undermine our message – think about it for a moment; you receive an email that reads ‘I just wanted to check that you have sent that letter’ what level of importance do you attach to that message? Exactly! the ‘just’ implies that it’s not particularly important. Consult your thesaurus – other words for ‘just’ are ‘only’ ‘merely’ and ‘simply’ – was that the message you wanted to convey?

Compare that sentence to ‘Can you please confirm that letter has been sent’ which carries greater authority and has more impact.

When we ‘think’ or ‘feel’ that a particular course of action is appropriate, we are diluting our message, losing credibility in the process. When we ‘believe’ or ‘know’ that creates a much stronger impression.
All too often, I see women undermine themselves in this way. Of course, some men do it too but, in my experience (see what I did there), women are far more likely to use qualifiers. Women often use qualifiers because we are conditioned to almost be apologetic for achievement, knowledge and for having for strong opinions. The culmination of our experiences may make us unconsciously believe that we are not deserving of someones time or attention. There is also a strong cultural dimension to this behaviour.

An unnecessary question at the end of a statement can have the same effect. Sometimes the statement can be strong ‘That was great meeting’ but when we add ‘wasn’t it?’ it diminishes our conviction.
The harsh truth is that we teach people how to treat us. If we are constantly apologising, questioning or qualifying we are perceived as being uncertain, lacking in confidence and weak.

Try this experiment; for one week re-read all important emails that you draft before hitting the send button. Remove the words and phrasing that diminish your message. You’ll see a huge difference.
This can feel a little uncomfortable at first, all real growth does. I liken it the first time I wear a new pair of trainers, the more often I wear them the less conscious I am of how they feel. You probably won’t get it right every time but will begin to notice and change this habit.

I’ll finish with a quote from one of my favourite books, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott

“Yes, the conversation is the relationship. One conversation at a time, you are building, destroying, or flatlining your relationships.”
― Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations: Achieving success in work and in life, one conversation at a time.

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