The Four-Letter Word You Should Remove from Your Vocabulary


"I just wanted to check on the status of that task..."

"I'm just emailing you because..."

"I'm was just wondering what your thoughts were on..."

How many times have you been guilty of starting a sentence with one of the above phrases? Yes ladies, I'm (mostly) talking to you. The one thing they all have in common is the inclusion of one simple word: "just."

And what's the problem with "just?" Simply put, it devalues whatever words follow it. It minimizes the importance of your request, your question, your statement, and consequently-- your overall impact.

Ellen Leanse, the founder of Karmahacks, recently published a post on LinkedIn about the overuse of this word in women's professional communication. Leanse explains her discovery of this phenomenon, and how it's underhandedly devaluing women's voices in the workplace:

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?

Leanse continues,

"I am all about respectful communication. Yet I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite: 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."

A subtle message of subordination... We use "just" to be polite, or not to impose on the person with whom we're speaking, because what we have to say is less important that what they're currently working on. That's the implication every time you use the word "just."

I haven't felt as strongly about omitting a word from my everyday vocabulary, especially in the workplace, since my revelation on how women tend to overuse the word "sorry" (more on that here). In the past couple weeks, I've made a concentrated effort to remove "just" from my vocabulary, specifically when writing emails (it's a bit easier to stop the words from slipping out when you're writing them). And I've found that Leanse is right: removing the word "just" doesn't only remove the deferential tone of your message; it strengthens it. For example, re-frame the sentences used at the beginning of this post:

"I'm checking on the status of that task..."

"I'm emailing you because..."

"What are your thoughts on..."

Revise your sentences. Revise your expectations. Revise your self-confidence.

Think back on the past couple weeks, the last email you wrote, the last conversation you had... Can you catch yourself over-using "just" in conversations? If so, take action to only use it when you absolutely need to, for grammar reasons or otherwise. It really is empowering!

Labels: