• Ashley Fry

‘Just’- the new four letter word

...and other phrases women should steer clear of in the workplace


Women are behind when it comes to being treated fairly and equally in the workplace. It’s a thing. This is a very multifaceted problem that many thought leaders have written about, and it’s clear there’s no magic bullet that will instantly make corporate America a perfect place for women to just wake up one day, waltz in to work and be instantly treated equally to their male counterparts. Many of the reasons women are treated differently are not only deep rooted into the very fabrics of our society and culture, but a lot of times go completely unnoticed even by well-meaning people trying to make a difference.


And sometimes, that well-meaning person is women ourselves. Women are conditioned from an early age (arguably from the second we emerge from our mothers and get swaddled in a pink blanket at the hospital) to not make waves, to keep things calm, to blend in enough and empathize with people’s feelings enough to keep everyone happy and getting along. This behavior is exhibited in a myriad of different ways- a big one of which is the language we use. When used, certain words or phrases, undermine our leadership and authority, and give others the impression that we don’t ultimately need to be respected, consulted with, or followed- that we can continue to be ignored.


Below I list 5 words or phrases to erase (for the most part) from your vocabulary- starting yesterday- to really stand your ground as a respected leader in your organization.


‘Just’ ‘I just wanted to email you to…’, ‘I just wanted to check in to…’, ‘I just wanted to ask…’ - sound familiar? The word ‘just’ demeans and discredits whatever follows it by implying that you need to come up with an excuse as to why you’re doing/saying/asking something. Guess what? You don’t! Aim to cut all that beginning fluff out of your communication (whether it be verbally, on chat programs like Slack, or via email) and just go straight for the punch: ‘Were you able to finish that project by Friday like we had discussed?’ BAM- they know you mean business. ‘Sorry’Life pro tip: apologizing for things that A) you’re not actually sorry for, or B) you absolutely shouldn’t be sorry for, or C) others have acted the same way and weren’t sorry for, demeans your leadership presence and authority. Being ‘sorry’ for something that’s totally acceptable like scheduling a meeting, asking a question, or washing your hands in the bathroom when someone else is waiting is totally unnecessary and implies to the receiver of said ‘sorry’ that their time or spacer is more valuable than your own- which is explicitly not true.Aim to say sorry for things that you’re only truly and honestly sorry about- things that are a serious issue or inconvenience- not just asking someone to turn up the volume on the conference call because you can’t quite hear what’s being said.‘This is probably a stupid question, but…’Pre-qualifying your question with a label of ‘stupid’ before it even comes out of your mouth does a massive disservice to you, your smart ideas, and your authority. This one just sets you up for people to totally ignore and not take seriously whatever it is that you have to say after this phrase. You might even notice after you’ve asked it, or stated what it was you were trying to say, someone else in the meeting asks or says it later and everyone listens. It’s because they all ignored what you told them was a ‘stupid’ idea from the get go. Stop it! Excessive emotionally-laden symbolsThe occasional use of emotionally-driven language and symbols can be a powerful thing. When reserved and used at the right moments, that exclamation point inserted ever-so intentionally can certainly pack a punch. You definitely want to avoid, however, inserting various exclamation points, question marks, or emojis in chats or emails. Emails laced with sentences that end questions with 4 question marks or have a happy face at the end of every statement are just not taken as seriously as paragraphs that are factual, concise, and avoid extreme biases that emotional language and symbols can convey. Once you’ve written your chat or email, give it a quick once over and aim to replace any unnecessary punctuation or emojis with language or symbols that are more factual and less emotional. If you read your email and 3 of the 5 sentences you’ve written end in exclamation points, you’ve likely gone too far. Switch a couple out for periods and what you’re trying to convey will be more easily understood and taken more seriously.‘If that’s ok’This phrase is really a placeholder for any and all ‘permission’ phrases women tend to slip into their communication. ‘If that’s ok with you’, ‘If that works for you’, ‘Unless that’s not ok’ are all variations of this phrase that put you in a position of asking for permission for whatever it is that you’re doing or stating. Aim to just eliminate phrases from your vocabulary that put you in a spot akin to asking permission from your parents and end correspondence with phrases such as, ‘Let me know your thoughts’ instead. This gives the receiver the opportunity to state their opinion if they’re so inclined and also allows you to open the conversation up for general collaboration.