Words matter. We know this. Yet, many of us are guilty of using words that do us no favors. Words that express doubt in our abilities and reinforce stereotypes or tired cultural norms that no longer fit today’s society.
Don’t believe me? How many times did you say sorry today?
Six years ago, I returned to my hometown of Toronto after working in New York for almost 10 years. When you’re away from home that long, it takes time to readjust. You have to reacquaint yourself to local sayings, customs and ways of speaking.
In those first months, I was (indirectly) called brash, too direct and unapologetic. I was loud – too loud. I didn’t think it had anything to do with being female since Frank got similar feedback.
I can’t speak for Frank, but I took the criticism as a compliment.
Why? Because for almost 10 years before that I was told to speak up. To speak clearly. To say what I mean. I also watched so many women I admired speak and act in this way, too.
They used certain words and phrases to share their ideas and challenge another’s. They also offered up nonverbal cues to command attention or encourage dialogue. It was empowering to watch.
So by the time I returned to my hometown, many of their teachings were deeply rooted in me. But, in an effort to try to fit in, I listened carefully to how women were speaking and what they were saying.
I quickly realized I wasn’t all that crazy about the words I was hearing.
This isn’t an issue solely reserved for Toronto. On a recent trip to New York I came across so many conversations between and amongst women that were using undermining words and phrases, too.
Since then, I’ve been paying really close attention to my words. I wondered if I was as evolved as I wished I was. Guess what? I wasn’t. It floored me the first day I counted the number of times I said sorry – and those were the times I realized I had said it. Or the number of times I used “just” to describe me or something I was doing.
So, today, I’m listing out the words and phrases we need to banish and offering up alternatives we can use instead.
It’s no secret that many of us have a really bad habit of apologizing. The problem with saying “I’m sorry” is that when you say it – at least the majority of the time – you aren’t sorry! Because you don’t have anything to apologize for.
The problem with apologizing ahead of saying something (anything) puts you and your thought in the back seat. It’s not worthy, you unintentionally say. And, you and your idea will be treated as such.
What to say instead: If you unintentionally hurt someone (and most definitely if it’s intentional), please say sorry and mean it. But, if someone is standing in your way and you’re trying to get around them, say excuse me. Excuse me also works when you need to politely make your presence known. Other alternatives could be: “I’d like to add another point…” or “Good morning…”
And, sometimes – probably many times – you don’t need to replace sorry with any other word. Instead, you just need to say the very thing you need or want to say without stumbling over what to say first.
Banish I think
By starting a sentence with “I think” or “I was thinking” you give your audience the opportunity to express doubt in everything you will say next. It strips you and your idea of confidence. If you’re saying it, we know that’s what you were thinking. Otherwise, you would have said “Ken was thinking…”
What to say instead: I dare you not to use another phrase to soften the power of your statement – just say it aloud and with confidence. I promise both you and the person you’re speaking with will consider your idea more fully before determining if it’s a good idea or not. But, if you’d feel more comfortable with a starting phrase, try: “I have an idea…” or “I have a solution…”.
Banish should and shouldn’t
If there is a word in the English language that sets off judgement alarm bells it’s should, or it’s counter, shouldn’t. Consider this: “Shouldn’t baby be with his mommy?” Or maybe this one: “Should you still be breastfeeding?”
What’s worse, we use the word should to shame our very own selves. How many times has your inner voice said you should exercise more or how you shouldn’t have another scoop of ice cream.
What to say instead: I say let’s all mind our own business. But, I do believe that open dialogue when someone is doing something different or new is actually a good thing. It can open up our minds and hearts to options and opinions we never considered before. To do that, though, we really need to drop the shoulds, shouldn’ts and any other shaming words. Instead, ask questions directly, respectfully and with real curiosity, and I know we’ll all be in a better place.
When it comes to your inner voice – also try a more direct approach. If you’re wondering if you should have another scoop of ice cream, make a choice, state your answer aloud and follow through.
How many times have you heard another woman disqualify everything she does or is by preceding it with the word, just? “I’m just a mom”, “I just do real estate law”, “I’m just a writer” – things I’ve heard (and said) just in the last week. Just isn’t an adjective and we need to stop using it as such.
What to say instead: Let’s outright quit using this word. But, there are times when we need a few more words to describe what it is that we do. My suggestion is to find the descriptive words that work for you. Instead of “I’m just a mom,” consider “I’m a mom to two girls.” Go from “I just do real estate law” to “I practice commercial real estate law.” They give your audience a little something more without minimizing yourself in the process.
Banish babysitter when referring to dads
Unlike the others on the list, this one offends me to my core. Sure, there are deadbeat dads out there. There are also plenty of fathers who prescribe to traditional roles of which diaper duty isn’t one. But, debasing fathers to the help doesn’t do anyone any favors. Nor is raising them onto a pedestal for doing everyday tasks like daycare pickups, laundry or making dinner. We’re all in it together, let’s start using words that represent that.
What to say instead: Do we really need an alternative? Sure you can say he’s parenting or he’s spending quality time with his kids. But, the best remedy for this one is to talk about dads as you would moms. If moms aren’t babysitters, neither are dads. End of story.
That’s five words we all must banish – which will you work on ridding first? I do know that this is only the start of an otherwise long list of words we really must banish from our vocabulary. So tell me in the comments what else should we add to the list and what alternatives should we use instead?