Do you undermine yourself when you talk? If you say “just” a lot (as in, just checking in or this will just take a minute), former Google executive Ellen Petry Leanse says yes. In her LinkedIn blog post, which got a lot of people talking this summer, she claims that women say the word a lot more than men, and that the tendency can undercut one’s clarity and credibility. “Using the word is a way to soften your comments or tone down your strength—no woman uses it when telling her child to take out the trash,” says Gloria Mayfield Banks, a motivational success strategist and trainer and founding partner of Charisma Factor.
Clout Killer—or Annoying Habit?
Whether women say the word more than men is not so certain. Traditionally or culturally, women are expected to be likable (read: not assertive) and not to offend, but anyone who has a boss or clients is going to use the word to signal his or her deference. “It’s like other bad speech habits such as interrupting or saying sorry when you don’t mean it or filling silences because you’re uncomfortable with them,” says Banks. “They can be irritating to people on the receiving end.”
But will a verbal tic actually hold you back? “Probably not,” Banks says. “It’s a good idea to pay attention to things that get under people’s skin and stop doing them, but I wouldn’t focus so much on them that you are distracted from contributing to a conversation or meeting—or performing your job.”
Work on This Intercommunication Skill Instead
To Banks, the real obstacle that the professionally ambitious—women and men—face is the lack of people skills. “To be a successful manager or leader, you need to be able to encourage and inspire people to be creative and give you their best,” she explains. “And to do that, you need to know how to make them feel valued and confident.” People skills, she adds, are often a gift, but they can also be easily acquired. “It’s a simple matter of making it a priority to engage with individuals and to convey your energy to them.”
Having good people skills also means that your colleagues and bosses are more likely to want you around and to help you advance, Banks adds. So you may get to the C suite on the power of your intelligence or talent alone, but you’re more likely to get there—and stay there—with the ability to make people feel good about themselves.
Gloria Mayfield Banks will be speaking on “What It Takes: The 10 Steps to Success” at the 2015 Pennsylvania Conference for Women.