A year ago, a former Google Executive, Ellen Petry Leanse, wrote a piece on LinkedIn advising women to avoid using the word “just.” When I read Leanse’ article, I admit I initially felt a tinge of feminism wash over me. The words Woman and Permission and Passive jumped out from the screen with a hand ready for a slap and I instantly took offence. I am by no means a feminist, but I will advocate for women’s rights if it is something I believe strongly in – Repeal the 8th – and stand up for my beliefs as regards to women in society. It’s not something you can run away from being a woman and a mother raising a strong and determined daughter. Leanse’ opinion on women’s overuse of such a simple word started to make sense to me the more I looked at how often I actually included it in my daily life. I’m just saying…
I have been, my entire life, a Just person
I’m just wondering… Just checking if… Can you just tell me… In emails, letters, conversations, texts, you know name it, I used it. Why? Was I being polite? Gently knocking on the door so not to fully disturb the giant on the other end? Was I afraid my query was not of great importance? I’m not sure – I veer towards polite. As though, using “just” was a mechanism to say “your time is important to me, so, I’ll be quick, but I really need you to answer my query.” How does that work if I really needed a response?
Leanse pointed out that
“just wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous.”
and this hit a cord with me. I believe she was right. I have overused the word in almost my entire working life. I made my way through college dancing the word around to lecturers and tutors. I am sure I have spouted it at conferences and courses and probably even at family barbecues. I would like to think that this is not only confined to women, that men are just bearers too. I hate the thought that women are passive, gentle, meek and obliging. That we simplify our way through conversations and tasks allowing senior colleagues (not necessarily men, might I add) to power and lord above us. In saying that, unfortunately, Leanse tested out the gender frequency for the use of the passive word just with a group of entreprenuers and the results speak for themselves – a small test group but a mixed gender group none the less.
“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.”
Just Don’t Do It
I stopped using the words just and wondering in emails, in letters and in conversations with colleagues. These are the two repeat offender words that always seem to drift into my correspondence. I would write – because they always filter in and still do – and subsequently delete any passive and uninvolved words that weakened what I was saying. My thoughts were more direct, matter of fact and stronger as I dropped these words like a heavy hot plate on the kitchen floor. I understood what Leanse meant when she said
“As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”
I don’t necessarily think this has had an affect on how my colleagues view me in my role as an information officer. Nor does it seem to have an affect on how quickly they answer my request or how important they deem my request to be. But there eludes a confidence with the strength and stability of direct language.
The reason I stopped using just after reading Leanse’s article was because I instantly felt more empowered and qualified as I dropped that simple four letter word. I felt determined (not that I wasn’t before) and that what I was saying had more punch and more power.
Sorry, but could I just…
The idea is similar to that of the over use of the word sorry. There are a million opinion pieces on why sorry shouldn’t be incorporated into our sentences… or any kind of qualifier, for that matter, which we attempt to use to emphasise our point. If we have a message, something we acknowledge and determine should be said, then say it – Loud and Proud. Don’t make excuses for why we say, don’t water it down with stop words that have no official bearing or weight – Say It.
“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.”
This idea has filtered into my Blogging Life and I find that I write with greater conviction, purpose and vigor when I’m conscious of avoiding hedge words. I am after all, as Leanse says, identifying and expanding my brand as Over Heaven’s Hill and that brand will be strong. My voice is capable and steady.
I will keep deleting just.