Just like to say I’m sorry, if that is ok?

There have been several good articles lately about words or phrases women use that should be removed from their everyday vocabulary. First was the article by Ellen Petry Leanse,“Google and Apple alum says using this one word can damage your credibility” published on LinkedIn. This is an interesting article about how the use (or overuse) of the word “just” reduces the credibility of women. We ‘just’ want to say, or we ‘just’ thought we’d ask… This use of “just” reduces the importance and strength of what is being said. Using just to start an email or a conversation seems like a way to get a dialog started, but in reality it minimizes anything said afterwards and by association, it minimizes the person saying or writing it. Many great ideas are lost because the email or conversation starts with ‘just’. Just is, simply, a way that women apologize for what they are about to say.

This gets me to the second article about the overuse of ‘sorry’ written by Sloane Crosley.“Why women apologize and should stop”, published in the New York Times is an insightful piece about the propensity to say “sorry”. As highlighted in the article, while the overuse of “sorry” is not gender-specific, clearly women use “sorry” significantly more often than men. Like “just”, “sorry” is used as a conversation starter. While there are times that it is completely appropriate to apologize for interrupting a conversation, most of the time that “sorry” is used, it is inappropriate. There is no need to apologize for what you are about to say, or for participating in the conversation, or for having an opinion.

These aren’t new conversations. Many articles about the inappropriate use of both words can have been written over just as many years. In looking for other articles about using “sorry” I found an interesting set of articles that were published last year, when the over use of ‘sorry’ came front and center in the media. Pantene published a new ad campaign that included women apologizing for having great, shiny hair. This ad catapulted the discussion about why “sorry” is used so much, and how women, especially, should not do so into the mainstream media. Many articles were written including this in 2014 at the height of the shampoo ad incident by Jessica Bennett.

It’s true – “just” and “sorry” are words that women use and overuse, mostly to their detriment. Since reading these articles, I have had time to contemplate this and to listen to their overuse by people around me. In listening, I realized that another phrase creeps into the common lexicon and likewise should be eliminated. It’s “if that is ok?”

Like “sorry” or “just”, “if that is ok” is another way that women (primarily) excuse themselves for whatever they have the right to ask. “If that is ok” is used for the same reasons and in the same ways as “just” and “sorry” and produce the same results. Again, there are times when asking if “it is ok” is justified, but, again, most of the time it is not. I have heard many women – smart, articulate, successful women – use these phrases routinely. Likewise, I have watched them be marginalized just as soon as the words emerge from their mouths. Awareness of its overuse helps, but trying to stop the use of any of these phrases, or even make the users aware of it use and abuse is frustrating at best and disheartening at worst. Why do we keep perpetuating this use of language that results in putting ourselves down? We talk about moving ahead and becoming influential, but if we continue to use these or similar phrases, our impact will be the opposite of what is intended. Just stop saying sorry, if that is ok.

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