Recently, I was having an important conversation with someone and even though I had prepared for it in advance and was certain of the exact words I wanted to convey, the conversation quickly went off track. In the moment – I got nervous, my mind blanked, and I blurted out the thing I thought would make him happy instead of the thing that I wanted and planned to say.

In my mind, I replayed the conversation for the entire 30-minute car ride home, upset at my people-pleasing behavior and that I hadn’t had the confidence to say what I wanted to say.

Finally, I said “enough.” I made a mistake. I will learn from the mistake, and I will try not to do it again. If you are a woman in business like me, you may have also been raised to be a “people-pleaser,” a nurturer whose focus is too often on the other person being happy. I’ve been working on changing that behavior for some time, so while erring on the “too nice” side still pops up occasionally, it is now the exception rather than the rule.

I found that becoming aware was the first step in changing my behavior so I could be my stronger, more authentic, self. When I am being authentic, I don’t want to please all people, but sometimes my discomfort with confrontation is so strong, I defer.

Last week, while teaching a class on this content, some women groaned as they recognized their own language choices in the descriptions of low-power vs high-power language and affect below:

Have you ever given away your credit?

  • Instead of owning your success with, “thank you, I worked hard on that.” You say: “It was no big deal,” “I got lucky,” “I couldn’t have done it without Joe and Mary?”

Are you using low-power language in your emails?

  • Self-effacing language – “Sorry,” “I guess what I’m saying,” “What this basically means…”
  • Undermining language – “Just,” “I’m no expert,” “I feel,” “I think,” “I believe,” vs. “I’m confident, I’m convinced, I expect”
  • Add unnecessary tag lines to the ends of sentence – “don’t you think?” “Does that make sense?” “Just a suggestion, ok?”
  • Use collective language (as though embarrassed to say I or my) -“We,” “Ours”

Check out this helpful Google app called, “Just Not Sorry”. It’s a Gmail Plug-in that highlights content in your emails, thus warning you when you write emails using words which undermine your message.

Developing a more confident image through your choice of language and non-verbals is worth the work – even if you are “faking it until you make it.”

Confidence is even more important than competence for some, according to this article, “The Confidence Gap” in the Atlantic Monthly:

“When people are confident, when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are, they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior,” Anderson said. He mentioned expansive body language, a lower vocal tone, and a tendency to speak early and often in a calm, relaxed manner. “They do a lot of things that make them look very confident in the eyes of others,” he added. “Whether they are good or not is kind of irrelevant.” Kind of irrelevant. Infuriatingly, a lack of competence doesn’t necessarily have negative consequences. Among Anderson’s students, those who displayed more confidence than competence were admired by the rest of the group and awarded a high social status. “The most confident people were just considered the most beloved in the group,” he said. “Their overconfidence did not come across as narcissistic.”

And, the end of my story ? That day, though I felt awkward, I took a deep breath and contacted the person to schedule another conversation – this time it went as I had intended.

If you would like to begin using more high-power language, start by becoming aware of where you are communicating in ways that don’t represent the bold you that you want to convey. Grab a friend and do some role-playing. Nothing will help you own new practices and behaviors faster than taking action and doing.

Make the call to choose language more assertive.

I’ve created a helpful document with tips and role-playing exercises to help you practice fearless communication. Click here if you would like to receive a copy!

Interested in learning more about how you are communicating non-verbally? Check out this interesting article.



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