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What word do women use that subtly undermines their credibility?

There’s a common word that seems harmless, and many don’t even know that they’re using it and undermining their credibility.

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A noted executive notices a trend

Former Google and Apple executive, investor, and entrepreneur, Ellen Petry Leanse noticed something simple in emails she was receiving from female friends and coworkers, but not males, and asserts that the very word can inadvertently undermine one’s credibility.

“It didn’t take long to sense something I hadn’t noticed before: women used “just” a lot more often than men,” Leanse notes, adding that it’s a permission word that puts one in a position of subordinance, and is one used frequently by women. Could this be undermining women’s credibility in the workforce or in other relationships?

Rather than dissect Leanse’s position, we’ll feature it below and invite you to weigh in with your comments – have you noticed yourself doing this very same thing?

“Just” Say No

By Ellen Petry Leanse, originally published on Women2.com:

A few months into the three-plus years I spent at Eastwick, a Silicon Valley tech strategic communications agency, I noticed something: the frequency with which the word “just” appeared in email and conversation.

Everyone at Eastwick was whip-smart and wired for success. The culture elicited high standards, impact, and accountability. “Type A” set the tone, led by Type A-in-Chief Barbara Bates, a proven entrepreneur and hard-driving, don’t-mince-words business leader. So the frequent appearance of “just” somehow ruffled my feathers. It seemed inconsistent with clarity I experienced at Eastwick, and it made me curious.

I wondered if the high ratio of female to male employees had something to do with it.

I arrived at Eastwick directly from Google, which had a more traditional gender mix, and where I didn’t seem to hear “just” nearly as much. “It’s your imagination,” I told myself. Yet after a while I knew it was real: that “just” just kept showing up in too many emails, meetings, and conversations.

“I just wanted to check in on…”

“Just seeing if you’d decided between….”

“If you can just give me an answer, then…”

“I’m just following up on…”

I started paying attention, at work and beyond. It didn’t take long to sense something I hadn’t noticed before: women used “just” a lot more often than men. It was a hunch – I had no data. Yet even if it was selective listening, it seemed I was hearing “just” three to four times more frequently from women than from men.

It hit me that there was something about the word I didn’t like. It was a “permission” word, in a way – a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking “Can I get something I need from you?”

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 am all about respectful communication. Yet I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination3, 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.

And as I began to pay attention, I was shocked – believe me – at how often I used the word.

At Eastwick, people weren’t shy about coaching each other: we all worked hard to better our skills. So I let a memo fly about the “J” word and suggested a moratorium on using it. We talked about what it seemed to imply (everyone agreed) and how different that message was from the way we saw ourselves: trusted advisors, true partners, win-win champions of our clients’ success.

As a team, we started noticing when and how we used “just” and outing each other when we slipped. Over time, frequency diminished. And as it did we felt a change in our communication – even our confidence. We didn’t dilute our messages with a word that weakened them.

It was subtle, but small changes can spark big differences. I believe it helped strengthen our conviction, better reflecting the decisiveness, preparedness, and impact that reflected our brand.

Yet “just” still bugged me. Sure, I’d had my little experiment with friends. But I’d acted on a hunch, maybe right, maybe wrong.

So I ran a test in the real world.

In a room full of young entrepreneurs, a nice even mix of men and women, I asked two people – a guy and a girl – to each spend three minutes speaking about their startups. I asked them to leave the room to prepare, and while they were gone I asked the audience to secretly tally the number of times they each said the word “Just.”

Sarah went first. Pens moved pretty briskly in the audience’s hands. Some tallied five, some six. When Paul spoke, the pen moved…once. Even the speakers were blown away when we revealed that count.

Now, that’s not research: it’s a mere MVP of a test that likely merits more inquiry, but we all have other work to do.

Plus, maybe now that you’ve read this, you’ll heighten your awareness of that word and find clearer, more confident ways of making your ideas known. In other words, help take the “J Count” down. Take the word out of your sentences and see if you note a difference in your clarity – and even the beliefs that fuel the things you say.

It’s actually easy, once you start paying attention. Like it?

If so, then, to riff Nike: well….”Do it.”

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Maria

    June 27, 2015 at 11:56 am

    I would add "I'm sorry" to this list. Women tend to apologize for everything. I'm not talking about a real apology, when it's warranted, but for even in the most menial chit-chat.

  2. Jacquie

    July 6, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    How about looking at this from a different perpective. If the use of the word "just" avoids coming across as overly aggressive….maybe men should consider using the word themselves. It might improve communication. Must women always be the ones to change their style to compete in a "man's world"? It is not a man"s world anymore. Men can learn from women as well as the other way around.

    • Lani Rosales

      July 10, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Interesting insight, Jacquie. It's definitely worth more thought on both sides – I see it less of a gender issue and more of a "say what you mean" for both sexes, which some men find difficult, as do women. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in!

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Business News

Confessions of a productive person: keeping a clean desk

Being a productive, clean person is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds – start with these simple steps focused on reduction in your life.

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We keep a clean office, there’s no secret about that, and the desks are usually clear of papers and clutter. Some call it minimalism, others call it clean, but mostly people just call it “wow” and ask how we keep such clean lives.

Studies show that your brain is hardwired to have cluttered thought patterns when you are surrounded by clutter, yes, even those of you that live in a pile of papers (which of course you have “a system” for). It can be intimidating to even get started when you have a messy office, but there are a few things that anyone can do to regain control and help your brain function at its optimal rate, improve productivity, and prove to clients and coworkers that you mind the details like no one else.

Friends and coworkers ask me constantly how I get so much done in the average day, and it isn’t because of my smartphone, no, it’s because I am a focused workhorse. A huge part of that is keeping a very clean environment. Let’s talk about why that’s important (and why you should ignore the “buut geniuses have messy desks” bullcrap editorials).

Perhaps you put to do items on post it notes or pieces of paper, or you pile up files that need to be dealt with – one of the most common reasons desks are messy. This method of task management is ineffective and tells your brain to panic because what you’re doing right now may or may not be as important as those 35 stickies, so you either pause frequently to reflect on the dozens of other unprioritized tasks, or your brain constantly churns in the background having been distracted with this mess that represents tasks, or you simply learn to tune the noise out, which defeats the purpose of your reminder system.

To change this, either implement tech tools to manage your tasks (search this site for “task management” and see dozens of tools) or keep one pad of paper or journal on your desktop.

minimalism

Another common item on desks is what? Envelopes. One of the tricks I’ve found is that no matter the envelope, it gets torn open and processed while I’m on hold or on a conference call I don’t have to speak on. Before you leave for the day, every bill should be torn open and either dealt with, filed, or if you must keep it on your desk, have a beautiful inbox or even a clipboard to keep them all in the same spot.

There are much more sophisticated methods, but let’s face it, you have to start small to ensure good habits. The same goes for files – be smart about processing paper in your down time.

My core confession that you may have picked up on so far is that I love to trash stuff.

I didn’t used to be this way, I used to hard paper, but it is how I began my journey toward being more productive – trashing. Remember that every time you throw just one envelope away, you’re making progress that is tangible, and you should learn to enjoy that progress and associate positive feelings with keeping things clean.

What else holds you back from keeping a clean work area and focusing on your tasks for the day? Often, books pile up or files start stacking themselves up magically. I’ve found that having aesthetically appealing storage systems (boxes, filing cabinets, files, pen holders, etc.) make you feel rewarded for using them. It’s a subtle trick, but if you invest in your desk accouterments, you feel compelled to use them, which inadvertently keeps you organized.

Look, these are simple things to do – ditch sticky notes, deal with mail and files before you leave for the day, and surround yourself with beautiful tools that keep you organized. This is where it begins – instead of being addicted to hoarding crap on your desk, work on rewiring your brain to enjoy reduction.

This editorial was originally published in November of 2013.

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Business News

You absolutely don’t need to be a 100% match for a job to apply

(CAREER) Most people believe they should only apply for their dream job if they’re a perfect match, but studies say that’s the wrong approach.

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apply for a job even if not 100% a match

You don’t need to be a 100 percent match for a job to apply. You just don’t.

We’ve all seen the crazy job postings:

-Must be fluent in Mandarin
-Must be be full-stack coder
-Must also have real estate license
-Must be a rockstar ninja (uuugh)

After seeing endless open positions with specific requirements, it’s no wonder that so many job seekers become discouraged. How can anyone fit 100 percent of the requirements on the job listing? And actually, most people don’t. According to a recent study, you only need to meet ~70 percent of the job requirements to be a good fit for a job.

So you’re telling me a requirement isn’t actually a requirement?!

The study analyzed job postings and resumes for over 6,000 positions across 118 industries, and they found that applicants are just as likely to get an interview whether you meet 50 percent or 90 percent of the requirements.

Crazy, I know. That law of diminishing returns will eff you up.

But what about women? I wondered the same thing. Surprisingly, the interview data was in favor of women that meet less of the requirements. In fact, the study shows that as a female, the likelihood of getting an interview increases if you simply meet 30 percent of the requirements. Also, female applicants are just as likely to get an interview if they meet 40 percent versus 90 percent of the job requirements.

Before you start complaining that women have it better in the job search process, correlation doesn’t equal causation.

Interestingly enough, 64 percent of the female users rejected at least one job where they matched 50 – 60 percent of the requirements, while only 37 percent of male users did. This leads us to believe there more implicit factors to take into consideration, like imposter syndrome throughout the interview process.

If you’re a recruiter or employer, this may seem like more work. But in an increasingly competitive job market for both employers and applicants, this presents an opportunity to get to know people for who they actually are, not just on paper. And resumes often do a poor job of reflecting that — especially the ever-important soft skills.

Key takeaways:

As we’ve gone through this study, here are a few practical action items for job seekers:

1. Apply for a lot of jobs to increase your number of interviews.

The study shows that increased interviews are a direct result of increased applications, not just picking and choosing what you think you’re a good fit for. Which brings us to our next point:

2. Go for those “stretch” roles — you never know what may come of it!

Send in a lot of applications, but don’t let that stop you from approaching the process thoughtfully. Recruiters can tell if you’ve skimped on the cover letter or your resume, and a thoughtful approach to the application process will be noticed and appreciated by recruiters, especially for those reach roles.

3. Don’t second-guess yourself.

We’re always our own worst critics, and according to this, we don’t need to be — especially throughout the job application process. Job hunting is stressful enough, so put on your most upbeat playlist (or Beyonce), say your affirmations, and go on with your bad self and start applying!

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Business News

Why email remains the top communication tool for businesses

(BUSINESS NEWS) Communication has changed tremendously over the years, but email appears to remain home base. Here’s why.

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Smartphones are so popular, you might assume that phone calls, text messages, video chat, Slack, Trello, or just social media would have surpassed email as the most popular form of communication. Surprisingly, they have only enabled its growth.

Email is, hands down, the most prominent form of communication and collaboration among businesses, and that’s not expected to change any time soon. “Over the course of the last year, there has been considerable discussion about the role of email in workplaces that depend heavily on social network and other collaboration tools,” says David Roe of CMS Wire.

“In these discussions, there appears to be a general consensus that while social networks are useful to achieve work-related goals, email remains the undisputed communications tool in the enterprise.” The statistics back up these claims.

Worldwide, there are more than 2.5 billion email users, and that number is expected to climb to 2.9 billion by the end of next year. That represents more than a third of the global population operating one or more active email accounts.

Right now, only about 25 percent of current email accounts are business accounts, but we can expect a rapid increase in those as well. The average office worker will send and receive as many as 121 email messages per day.

David Roe also addressed a SendGrind study called The Future of Digital Communication, which evaluated trends in digital communication among the various generations. The findings showed that 74 percent of people chose email as their preferred method of communication and 89 percent email at least once every month for business or personal reasons.

Email is a huge part of our collaborative and communicative society, so understanding its role in business and society can play a huge role in mastering trends to the best advantage in your enterprise.

Roe further explains that, although the status of email has not changed within the walls of business enterprises, it has evolved. “The kinds of people using it are changing so it is only logical that the way it is being used is going to change too,” he says.

A younger generation that’s more in tune with digital trends and technology will soon be dominating the workforce, and email is adapting. SendGrind CMO Scott Heimes said in The Future of Digital Communication report that new technology will render email a new, more useful entity.

“With chatbots making their way into email and messaging apps in 2017, 2018 will be the year in which chatbots effectively provide personalized experiences to customers, if done correctly,” Heimes said. “Marketers will leverage data from email marketing, display retargeting, social media ads and chatbots to create a cohesive and unified experience for customers.”

This is just a glimpse of what’s to come for email users, and businesses may capitalize on its new roles for more effective collaboration.

Given the steadily evolving landscape that is email, here are the chief reasons we can expect it to stick around as a viable business tool:

Convenience: Can you imagine being on the phone or texting/social messaging for the equivalent of 121 email messages per day? You can often accomplish more in a 10-minute phone call than you can in 10 emails, but sending and receiving messages when it’s the most convenient option can be a huge draw for busy employees.

Security: Phone calls can be overheard, texts intercepted, and social media messaging accounts hacked. Email can also be hacked, but thanks to encryption services that plug right into Microsoft, Gmail, or other enterprise email services, that data can be protected.

Work-From-Home Collaboration: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of employees performed all or some of their work from home in 2016, and that number’s expected to grow substantially over the coming decade. Although collaboration programs are popular, working from home simply wouldn’t be possible for this many people without email.

Ease of Talking to People: Some people freeze up when they speak on the phone. Others just don’t like it. Millennials and Gen Z employees are entering the workforce in full swing now, and their use of digital technology makes email a go-to solution. Workers who hate phone conversations can communicate easily with their devices and avoid too much interpersonal interaction.

Information Transfer: There’s rarely a better method of transferring information than via email. Not only can you transfer files and documents to the recipient(s), but you can also store the information for future reference.

Instant Notifications: Email speeds are faster than ever. Posts arrive in your inbox nearly instantaneously. Real-time communication is practicable in a convenient, simple method.

Ease of Access: Thanks to smartphones, you can get access to your email pretty much anywhere. There’s also no need for a WiFi connection since data plans are robust and cell phone coverage broader than ever.

Email is not a perfect system. Like every other form of communication it has its downsides, but it’s proven to be the most useful form of communication to date. Although new forms of collaboration surface regularly, email probably isn’t going anywhere.

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