Sorry, I am no expert, but I just think we need to talk about how we actually communicate. Does that make any sense?
What did you think of that sentence? It sounds like it is coming from a feeble unsure human. But as crazy as it sounds I have been known to craft sentences like this in the past. When I don’t think too hard about it, my speech and writing is sprinkled with this type of language.
There has been a lot of talk around the inter web lately about the way this language undermines itself. A new app, Just Not Sorry, is making a big splash. The app searches your emails for this unproductive language and explains to you why you should not use it. Pretty savvy. The concept caught the nation’s attention with a shampoo ad of all things.
There have been lots of strong opinions about this topic, both positive and negative. The idea of women using unsure language even made an appearance at the Golden Globes this week. Melissa McCarthy along with her co-stars offered some hilarity to these supposedly undermining phrases.
We are not all the same
My first thought in the midst of this conversation is, that there is no one right way to communicate. Each person gets to decide for themselves how they wish to speak. I don’t appreciate someone telling me what I should do, or what all women should do. Women, and men for that matter, come from all walks of life, and their conversation should reflect their differences in style.
Sometimes I actually am sorry, and I think it is classy to err on the side of politeness.
Nevertheless, all this buzz about language does bring up one great point, our language, and word choice should be thoughtful and purposeful. My young daughter mimics the words my husband and I use, for example when answering with an affirmative she offers a big “oh yeah.” Just the same way we pick up our language cues from the culture around us, for better or for worse.
So here I am thinking about how I speak and wondering if any of it undermines me as the media outlets and the Just Not Sorry app says it does. Here is where I have landed.
My Plan and a few tips
Think about it. Is there any language you use regular that is completely second nature and possibly not productive? Look over the below list of key phrases, taken from Tara Mohr’s book Playing Big, and consider how often they are used in your everyday communication. When I did this, I was shocked how often I speed out this unnecessary language.
- Inserting just: “I just want to check in and see…” “I just think…” Just tends to make us sound a little apologetic and defensive about what we’re saying. Think about the difference between the sound of “I just want to check in and see…” and “I want to check in and see…” or the difference between “I just think” and “I think…”
- Inserting actually: “I actually disagree…” “I actually have a question.” It actually makes us sound surprised that we disagree or have a question—not good!
- Using qualifiers: “I’m no expert in this, but…” or “I know you all have been researching this for a long time, but…” undermines your position before you’ve even stated your opinion.
- Asking, “Does that make sense?” or “Am I making sense?”: I used to do this all the time. We do it with good intentions: We want to check in with the other people in the conversation and make sure we’ve been clear. The problem is, “does that make sense” comes across either as condescending (like your audience can’t understand) or it implies you feel you’ve been incoherent.
Check you motivation. When I think about my motivation, I tell myself I use this language because I am being considerate, really I use it because I learned it from my societal peers. You must decide for yourself why you are using the language on your page. Are you using it because some movement of women says you need to or because you are embarrassed or unsure. Find out why you are using specific language and test whether it is worthy or not. Figure out your plan and stick to it.
It’s okay to be considerate. Your natural desire to be considerate of others comes from a good place. It may be something that women do differently, but that doesn’t mean it is always a weakness. Our goal here is to remain considerate of others while not undermining our authority.
Because you and your friends know what you’re talking about, you should be confident, because you are a force to be reckoned with, our speech should reflect this. True humility is not diminishing ourselves, but rather seeing ourselves as we truly are in light of who God really is.
Proofread. Before you send a text or an email look over your sentences and consider what language is helpful and what is unnecessary comfort, like coloring in toothpaste.
One is enough. When I read through an email and see it littered with “I thinks” and apologies, I find it harder to edit them out than expected. The language and sentence structure is simply ingrained in my thought process. I am also okay with following my gut when it reminds me to be considerate. So my rule is, that if it feels necessary, I can allow for one of these phrases.
Alternative language. Often we include these pesky phrases because we are trying to add warmth and show that we are considering the other person. Luckily for us there are other ways to add these touches to your writing.
- Use warm greetings in your communications. This sets a positive tone so that you can be direct and assured in you communication throughout the rest of the message, without concern of coming across too cold.
- Please instead of sorry. The word sorry has more weight when it is used for a real apology. If you are trying to be polite incorporate the word please instead.
- Instead of saying “does this make sense?” you can close an email with “I look forward to hearing your thoughts” or “please reach out if you would like to discuss this further.” You can leave it up to the other party to let you know if they are confused about something, rather than implying that you “didn’t make sense.”
Taking a few small steps at a time, we can create speaking habits that are thoughtful and break unnecessary habits. Just remember there is no one right way to communicate. Make a plan, take steps, and be intentional about the communicate.