“The media is biased against women, isn’t it?”

“It’s just my opinion, but women are sort of portrayed more negatively than men in the media.”

“Women are kind of not present in leadership positions in the production of media.”

Can you hear it? The self-doubt, the lack of confidence imbedded into these sentences? These comments, spoken by one of my top graduate students during her class presentation, were filled with ‘diminishers’—words or phrases that minimize or call into question what someone is meaning to say. By using a question tag (isn’t it) and diminishing words (just, sort of, and kind of), she negatively impacted the credibility of what she was communicating. Yet, when I looked around the room, other students did not seem bothered by them. In fact, they were smiling and nodding their heads in agreement. These diminishing words and phrases have become so normative, most people don’t hear them, let alone know how to remove them.

These ‘diminishers’ echoed my own struggles to find my voice. I had often minimized what I wanted to say, especially with those in authority, as I needed their acceptance and approval to feel good about my work and myself. Without my knowing, these ‘diminishers’ helped me not be too confrontational, opinionated, and, most importantly, too aggressive. Little did I know how much of my own power I was giving over to others to define not only how I felt about my work, by my sense of self. By using ‘diminishers’ I was always asking others to approve of or agree with what I said, rather than showing my confidence in my statements and my self-worth.

Yet, in the corporate world, it’s a catch-22 around the board room table. To be seen as powerful, one needs to own and display a sense of toughness and aggressive power—to interrupt, get your point across, and hold your ground at all costs. For women in particular this is a tricky balance. If they speak up in a bold assertive voice, they will often be perceived as too aggressive and called the “B” word—Bossy or Bitchy. However, if they don’t speak up and minimize their voice, they will be seen as passive and called a door mat. As a result, it becomes difficult to know how to “lean in” to the negotiations, discussions, and opportunities around the table.

Giving your power over to others for fear of how you’ll come across, doesn’t work. Developing Quiet Power does as it provides a balance between the two sides of aggressive power and passive reluctance. By being confident in yourself, you will speak with more conviction and a self-assurance and awareness—question tags and ‘diminishers’ will drop away and you will say it like you mean it with authority and authenticity

The stakes aren’t high for my graduate student’s class presentation, yet they will be when she enters into strategic networking opportunities or future career salary negotiations in the corporate world. Depending on your audience or social situation, it might make sense to soften the intensity of your statement and use these ‘diminshers’ to convey your meaning. However, be sure that is your intent, otherwise you won’t be saying what you mean and you will come off as lacking confidence and conviction.

Not sure how to change these patterns? Here are three easy action steps that I have used and share with Breaking Thru Barrier clients to help them gain confidence at work and in all areas of their lives.

  1. Question Tags—“Isn’t it?” “Could you?” “Would you mind?”—These short questions in your sentence can negate your belief in a statement. Drop them and make your statement with conviction rather than with a questioning intonation.
  2. Minimizers—“Just” “A little”—These words take away from the power of your message and undermine the value of what you are trying to express. Ask a friend to alert you to when you use them and reassess their usefulness. Eliminate them from the sentence and your statement will be more succinct, direct, and powerful.
  3. Qualifiers—“Sort of” “Kind of”—These phrases indicate uncertainty in what you are trying to convey and act as unnecessary filler. Remove these filler words and your sentences will be strong and to-the-point statements.

In my previous blog, I talked about flipping the script of negative messages in your head to begin the journey of believing in yourself and developing your own quiet power. Along with that skill, using strong declarative words helps build confidence in what you want to express and convey, especially in high stakes meetings and situations. Once you are more comfortable in saying what you mean, you can then match it with strong body language to mean what you say. Stay tuned for more confidence building tips!