Hari Patience-Davies shares a resolution we all should make – to ditch the depowering words from our vocabulary.
We’ve all done it. Or at least, most English people of my acquaintance have done it. Most women I know have done it. I’d imagine that even you, dear reader, have done it on occasion.
And by it I mean, apologised when it wasn’t our fault.
“Sorry,” I say if it takes a little longer than usual to make a coffee at the communal machine.
“Excuse me, sorry, pardon me,” I say, walking through a crowd.
“Sorry to chase,” I write in an email to a colleague.
And I’m not an unconfident person. I’ve just been raised to the concept of meekness and politeness, and that means that my first instinct is always to apologise – even if it’s not my fault.
But the language we use matters – and using the word “sorry”, when you have nothing to apologise for is something that can undermine you and any point you’re wanting to make.
So next time you join a call and everyone else is already online, consider whether an apology is the right way to start the meeting. If you’re on time or it’s only a minute or two past the scheduled time, then you can just start the proceedings, don’t acknowledge it. If you’re three to five minutes late, consider saying “Thank you for waiting,” rather than “Sorry I’m late.” If you’ve been keeping people waiting longer than six minutes, then yes, basic courtesy says an apology is required.
Similarly, as a colleague of mine used to say “drop the just.” Adding the word “just” to a sentence makes it sound less assertive, and people in lower status positions or people who feel like they have a lower status than the person they’re speaking to often adopt it.
“I just wanted to ask you what the status of the report is.”
“I was just hoping to ask for your advice.”
“I just need a minute.”
All of these phrases could be considered the polite thing to say, but if you remove the word just, are they really any less polite?
“I wanted to ask you what the status of the report is.”
“I was hoping to ask for you advice.”
“I need a minute.”
If we remove the word “just” the sentences still retains their intent, but the feel changes. They goes from being a beseeching request to a reasonable question. The words change from being from a lower status person to a higher status, to being two equals speaking.
This is not to say not to show respect to powerful people who’s patronage you want – there’s nothing wrong with manners – but don’t fall into the trap of letting the language you use make you seem small to big up others – it won’t be good for your confidence or for their perception of you.