Having spent a couple of decades in the corporate world, and even now outside the sector, I marvel at how women speak their views and voice their opinions. Coming across too strong is often viewed as adversarial for women (or possibly even worse). It can’t be possible that we have a strong opinion, a passionate view, or that we are just not being heard?
My friends and I often talk about tempering our speech and our approach, almost in a passive manner. We think about how we come across before we say anything to our colleagues, our direct reports, and most certainly to our managers. We temper our opinions and directives with, ‘In my opinion (or worse my humble opinion,’) or ‘Perhaps we should consider’ or other phrases such as ‘Isn’t it?’ at the end of their statement. For example, ‘That music is so loud, isn’t it?’ Another great one is, ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but….’
Why can’t we say what we mean without hedging ourselves and be taken seriously? Do we, as women, not realize that we undersell our voices and our views if we use this language? How about considering that women apologize way more than men? Just randomly saying, ‘I’m sorry’ comes naturally to us, and we mean it. Count how many times you do it.
In our professional lives, personal lives, and as role models for our children (of any gender), continuing to think and speak this way serves to subordinate us. Why is it that if we say something, it is taken aggressively? Or do we think that is the case? Why isn’t it assumed that if a woman says, ‘That project isn’t going to work and here are three reasons why….’ it isn’t automatically taken as her voicing a real concern and a real opinion. Why does she need to add, ‘In my opinion…’ before she begins to speak? No one is advocating rudeness, but we are over-correcting by using language that takes ourselves and what we are saying down by several notches.