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Are You Undermining Yourself With Language?

For way too long, even the most confident among us has probably undermined herself and her success with a trepidatious tone, tenor, and choice of words.

If you haven’t read Alexandra Carter’s excellent LinkedIn post, “My #1 Professional New Year’s Resolution is to cut out these phrases”, I suggest you do. It’s a great reminder of how we can easily fall back into the self-sabotaging patterns we have worked hard to overcome.

are you undermining yourself with language?

An award-winning negotiation trainer, WSJ Bestselling Author of Ask for More, and Clinical Professor at Columbia Law School, among the phrases Alexandra cites, most––or iterations of them––have made their way out of my mouth at one point or another, most often when sharing my thoughts, ideas or opinions in work situations where men were involved…

“I think…” “I’m sorry…” “I feel like this…” “If that makes sense?” “I just wanted to check…” “In my personal opinion…” “Whenever you get a second…” “This might be a dumb idea but…”

Oy vey! This list alone transports me back to now-cringeworthy moments in my career where I felt it necessary to preface, dilute and minimize my language so as not to be perceived as a threat, or overconfident, or whatever the hell kind of bullshit that I, myself, was helping perpetuate in a male-dominated business culture. And although I have worked hard at confidence-building and gaining self-awareness over the years, I periodically catch myself softening my language…and get that old whack-a-mole feeling where I have to tamp myself down before someone else does it for me.

Nancy Mendelson

“By communicating as though our opinions are meaningless, we’re indirectly training ourselves to believe we are worth less. And if we lose verbal confidence in our own thoughts and ideas, that lack of confidence can spread to numerous other areas of our lives — especially professionally,” writes Erin Heaning in her article for Feature Female. “Building confidence in your professional and personal life starts with your own words. Once you begin to notice the ways in which you undermine yourself in your own words, you can work to get rid of these self-sabotaging qualifiers.”

Although not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions, I join Alexandra in making a concerted effort to cut out language like, “this might seem crazy, or I’m just wondering whether,” part of my own repertoire of marginalizing phrases. And while each of us is at a different stage on our journey toward owning our power and not apologizing for it, it would be great to know what some of your “phrases” are so we can remind each other that we are worth it!

1 Comment

Nico Sheers
Nico Sheers
Jan 12, 2023

So true.

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