As students — many of whom will be scouring the job market for opportunities in the near future — we are often preoccupied with the written and spoken language that we use; not solely for the numerous research papers, essays and presentations we are responsible for producing over the course of our educational careers, but because we are aware of the value judgments people make about our dialect and our prose.
How many of you have dedicated an immense amount of time to making sure the carefully-crafted letters and e-mails you send to peers, colleagues and future employers are “just right” before pressing send? We check and double check spelling and grammar, we make sure we use tone that’s appropriate for the intended recipient, and we fire away. Whether we speak on the phone or in person, we tend to be more careful about the words we use because unlike written language — which we are typically free to edit until we are satisfied with the final result — there’s no “taking back” spoken words (or the inflection behind them) when you’re trying to quickly convey a message or attempting to prove yourself worthy to someone whose approval matters to you. We think about our word choices — some people even code-switch between the dialect they use naturally versus the dialect they use in a professional setting — and hope that we aren’t coming across in a way that misconstrues our intent or puts us at risk of negative evaluation.
However, have you ever considered that even the subtle, seemingly innocent word choices you make may be stripping your words of their full power? Ellen Leanse thinks so. In her latest article — It’s time to stop using ‘just’ in your writing and speaking (published today at Ragan.com and in its original version located at Women2.com) — Leanse charges women with using the word ‘just’ as “a ‘permission’ word.”
“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a “child” word, to riff Transactional Analysis. As such, it put the conversation partner into the “parent” position, granting them more authority and control. And that “just” didn’t make sense. … I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite. It was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”
Upon noticing the prevalence of the word “just” in the e-mails sent by women at her company, Leanse decided to conduct an informal experiment in which observers listened to a six-minute conversation between a man and a woman about their respective business startups — each had three minutes to speak — while the observers tallied the amount of times they each used the word “just.” The man used it once; the woman used it either five or six times. As Leanse states, this experiment was “not research: it’s a test that likely merits more inquiry.” Until a formal experiment is conducted, I urge you to inquire within yourselves.
Look through your e-mails and text messages. How often have you used the word “just” in an attempt to sound friendlier or non-demanding? You may be unconsciously asking permission for your thoughts and words to be validated by others, which can diminish the impact behind them. Ladies: it is time to stop diluting our convictions, our lofty goals, and our grandest plans with the constant use of what otherwise would continue to be considered an innocuous four-letter word in a sea of written and spoken communication. I “just” thought you should be aware of your own authority and the power it holds when you wield it with confidence. Laura Redman