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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.”

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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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Overtime laws could soon be getting an update

(BUSINESS NEWS) There are some potential changes coming to overtime laws – employers must know how to be complaint, and employees need to make sure they’re getting paid fairly.

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An important new overtime rule is being proposed that could change overtime for the better. With unemployment at an all-time low, this change could affect at least one million workers.

Overtime is determined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If an employer allows for overtime work, then overtime pay must be paid to employees. Overtime pay is typically one and a half times the hourly rate. Overtime is considered traditionally as any time worked over 40 hours in a work week. Employees are classified as either exempt (also called salaried, meaning no overtime eligibility) or unexempt (allowing for overtime).

This is determined by whether you earn a salary or wage at or above a certain threshold. Currently, the exempt threshold is $23,660 annually. If you make below that amount, you are eligible for and required to be paid overtime if it is worked. Many employers restrict positions from working overtime in order to avoid paying it so this new law won’t change much for them. For more specific details about the rules, see this cheatsheet.

The overtime rule proposal, which has been published and taking comments since 2016, would increase the overtime threshold to $35,308 per year. This would make as many as 1 million more workers potentially eligible for overtime under the law. The overtime law is an important one to protect worker’s rights and prevent abusive work practices by employers. The last change was made in 2004. Another proposed change is for periodic reviews of the overtime law. It’s important to note there is no change for firefights, police, paramedics, and nurses as well as some other unionized workers like carpenters and electricians.

The classification of ‘highly compensated’ employees would change from $100,000 to $147,414.

The new rule, if it becomes law, will require more employees to be paid overtime. This is especially important for those employees who are required to work on holidays. Currently, law makers are working to finalize the rule for approval.

An official publication has been made in the Federal Register and closes for public comments on May 21, 2019. Submit your comment before the deadline is up.

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How to conduct a proper informational interview

(CAREER) Informational interviews comprise a technique in which you ask an employer or current employee to explain the details of their job to you. Try doing this before you transition into your next occupation!

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At some point in your career, you may ask for someone’s time to do an informational interview — a process in which a job-seeker asks questions about a field, company, or position in hopes of receiving information which will inform both their decision to go into the field and their responses to the specific job’s actual interview. Since the power dynamic in an informational interview can be confusing, here are a few tips on how to conduct one. Not how to obtain one, but how to conduct one once both parties agree to connect.

The process of an informational interview typically starts with finding a person who works in your desired field (and/or location if you have a specific company in mind) and setting up a time during which you can ask them a few questions about things like their job responsibilities, salary, prerequisites, and so on. Once you’ve set up a time to meet in person (or via Skype or phone), you can proceed with putting together a list of questions.

Naturally, you should understand the circumstances under which asking for an informational interview is appropriate before requesting one. Your goal in an informational review should be to ask questions and listen to the answers, NOT pitch yourself as a potential hire. Ever. Nobody appreciates having their time wasted, and playing on your contact’s generosity as a way into their company is a sure way for your name to end up on their blacklist.

Once you’ve set up an informational interview, you should start the conversation by asking your contact what their typical day is like. This is doubly effective: your contact will most likely welcome the opportunity to discuss their daily goings-on, and you’ll be privy to an inside glance at their perspective on things like job responsibilities, daily activities, and other positive aspects of their position.

They’ll also probably detail some drawbacks to the position — things which usually aren’t explained in job postings — so you’ll have the opportunity to make a well-informed decision vis-à-vis the rigors of the job before diving head-first into the hiring process.

After your contact finishes walking you through their day, you can begin asking specific questions. However, unless they’ve been unusually brief in their description of their duties, your best course of action is probably to ask them follow-up questions about things they’ve already mentioned rather than asking targeted questions you wrote without context. This will both indicate that you were listening and allow them to expand upon information they’ve already explained, ensuring you’ll receive well-rounded responses.

You should save the most specific questions (e.g., the most easily answered ones) for the end of the interview. For example, if you want to know what a typical salary for someone in your contact’s position is or you’re wondering about vacation time, ask after you’ve wrapped up the bulk of the interview. This will prevent you from wasting the initial moments of the interview with technical content, and it may also keep the contact from assuming a strictly material motive on your part. And be willing to ask “what does someone with your job title typically earn in [city]?” instead of their specific take-home salary which might not be reflective of the norm (plus, it’s rude, and akin to asking someone their weight).

This is also a good time to ask for general advice regarding breaking into the field, though you may want to avoid this step if you feel like your contact isn’t comfortable discussing such a topic or if you’re intending to apply as someone with experience.

Of course, you won’t always be able to meet with your preferred contact directly, especially if they work in a dynamic field (e.g., emergency services) or have a security clearance which negates their ability to answer the bulk of your questions. If this happens, you have a couple of back-up options:

1. Send an email with a list of questions to the contact, or send them your phone number with a wide-open calling schedule. This is useful if your contact has a random or on-call schedule.

2. Ask your contact if there is someone else you could connect with (it could even be their assistant).

3. Speak to the company’s HR branch to see if you can request a company-specific job requirement print-out or link. These will usually be more particular than the industry requirements. But don’t ask for something you can find yourself on the company’s Careers page online.

Nothing beats an in-person interview over a cup of coffee, but — again — wasting someone’s time isn’t a good way to receive useful information about the position in which you’re interested.

Before transitioning to your next position or career field, consider conducting an informational interview. You’ll be amazed at the amount of insider information you can glean from simply listening to someone discuss their day in detail.

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The sad truths you missed about the US Women’s Soccer Team lawsuit

(NEWS) The US Women’s Soccer team dominated headlines by suing for equal pay, but there was so much more to the lawsuit that could have a ripple effect in the business world.

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Recently, on International Women’s Day, the United States Women’s Soccer Team (USWNT) filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation. The timing of the suit is not only a sign of the team continuing their decades long fight against the organization (only three months before they are set to defend their World Cup title in France), but a recognition of the symbol that they have become in the larger battle that women and other minorities are waging in order to be given the same resources as the men leading in their fields.

It should go without saying that the women’s soccer team is unparalleled in its athletic success: over the past twenty years they have won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. These players, as ESPN acknowledges, are among the most accomplished and best known women athletes in the world.

Their counterpart, the Men’s National Soccer Team, leaves much to be desired (they failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup, for example) yet they consistently receive much more support from the US Soccer Federation.

Although the pay disparity between the USWNT and the male soccer team is certainly stark, the “gains” that the women athletes are fighting for go beyond monetary compensation.

According to Mashable, “This [suit] includes how women frequently play on a dangerous artificial surfaces when the men do not, fly commercial when the men travel by more convenient, comfortable charter flights, and the alleged allocation of fewer resources to promote women’s games compared to men’s.”

As if being the best players in your sport in the world and having to share hotel rooms after getting torn apart by the seams astroturf and receiving less-than-world-class medical care wouldn’t be infuriating enough, it’s truly this final point that highlights the glaring mistreatment of the USWNT.

Without support from the US Soccer Federation, not only in the form of payment but in promotion of their games and general good-will toward their players, the USWNT will not be able to grow their following so that they can establish a consistent revenue near what the men’s team attracts. This “lack” of revenue continues to create the chicken/egg excuse that the Federation has for not propping up the USWNT like they deserve.

It’s simply the opposite of “sportsmanship” for the US Soccer Federation to use these players’ love of playing the game (that, again, they are the best in the world at) and their country as a way to gaslight them into playing for less.

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