Is This One Word Undermining Your Credibility?

Paying attention to how you the use this word could increase your clarity and power.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ellen Petry Leanse, who has worked at  Google and Apple, noticed something striking when she started a new job where the staff was predominately female: a big surge in the use of the word “just.” As in “I just think that …” or “I am just following up on …”

It wasn’t serving her colleagues well, Leanse wrote in a blog post: “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.”

It’s a point that author Tara Mohr made in her book Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message. Mohr, who Convene interviewed last December, described words like  “just” and “actually” as “shrinkers” and advised striking them from emails, along with unnecessary apologies and other undermining expressions.

Try taking the J-word out of your sentences, Leanse suggests, and see if you note a difference not only in how you come across to others, but in how you feel about your own ideas.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.