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Women have long pushed for equality in the workforce. We want equal rights, equal pay, equal promotions, and sometimes we get those things. Most of the time, however, we do not — and for one HUGE reason: most women need to change their language!

The language we use in our resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, thank you notes, and in interviews can make or break our chances of landing the job.The language we use IN our jobs once we land them is CRUCIAL to our ability to move up in our companies, get raises and promotions, and be generally respected by those we work with.

As much progress as we have made toward gender equality in the workplace, the game is still very much played by a man’s rules and in a man’s language. How we, as women, communicate makes a huge difference for how we are perceived as employees, supervisors, and peers. If we want to be respected as equals, we HAVE to change our language.  

Whether you are applying for jobs or are working away in the job you already have, keep the following tips in mind and then sit back and watch the difference they make!Women, change your language! If you want to be taken seriously in the workplace and be respected as an equal, you HAVE to change how you communicate.

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1) Become a Boy Scout

As a Resident Director at an engineering college, I heard my female residents complain daily about how their male professors and peers didn’t respect or trust them. I don’t think there was a single year I worked as an RD that I didn’t make at least ONE resident watch Dr. Pat Heim‘s presentation, “He Said, She Said.” It is a fabulous talk about the funny-but-not-funny ways we women tend to undermine our own efforts to communicate.

One example Dr. Heim uses is about the difference between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. Think about the Boy Scout oath: “On my honor, I will do my best…” What about the GirlScout oath? “I will TRY…” We can’t even commit to DOING something in our children’s leadership programs! A TRY is the best we can give. Geesh…

Let’s take a lesson from the Boy Scouts and use assertive, positive, “I WILL” language. If we want to be seen as capable and as equals with the men in our fields, we HAVE to start by changing the way we speak about what we can and will do.

Even if you aren’t 100% sure you CAN do something, do NOT fall back on the Girl Scout phraseology. Do you know what men do when they aren’t sure? They FAKE it! In their minds, they WILL succeed, and they display that confidence all over the place. We women have to first believe OURSELVES that we are competent, change our language to reflect that certainty, and THEN we can expect others to believe it, as well.

2) Lose the Hedgers

Words like ‘might,’ ‘um,’ ‘could,’ and ‘maybe’ diminish the power in our language. These hedgers stem right back to our not being 100% confident in ourselves. We don’t want to sound like we’re telling people what to do or as if we’re prideful, so we sound like wimps instead!

Take a lesson from the men and use strong, confident language. It is perfectly acceptable to tell a co-worker, “I need these reports on my desk by noon on Friday.” It’s direct, it’s specific, and there’s nothing in there to let them know you MIGHT accept late work.

Compare that assertive statement with, “Um, please get this back to me by, maybe, noon on Friday, okay?”

See the difference? This more typically female statement a) starts with a hedger (which kills your credibility and professionalism RIGHT out of the gate) and b) puts another hedger right by the deadline (so even THAT isn’t totally certain anymore), and c) ends with a question! When we tack “okay?” onto the ends of our statements, it lets the receiver know there’s wiggle room there. It’s really up to THEM whether or not your stated timeline works for them or not. You are no longer the one in charge of the deadline; your coworker is.

No, no, NO!! Lose the hedgers, lose the “okay” questions, and simply state what you need and want. You can be plenty polite and respectful of others WITHOUT becoming a pushed-over doormat and losing any credibility you may have had.

3) Take Credit

Did you know that women tend to “blame in” and men tend to “blame out” if something goes wrong? The best example I have EVER seen of this phenomenon was when my parents were building their house, and they were getting ready to have the wallpaper hung.

The wallpaper hanger arrived, took down all the vertical blinds in both the kitchen and adjoined living room, threw them into one huge pile, and then hung them up once he had finished with the wallpaper. Little did he realize that the blinds designed to go over the carpet were just a LITTLE bit shorter than the ones designed to go over the tile. When he stood back to survey his work, the bottom of the blinds hung in a wavy, uneven pattern. He looked over his shoulder at my mom and said, “There is something wrong with this house!” Oy… ?

However, the opposite tendency is true when we’re talking about our successes. Men tend to take credit for succeeding all on their own, and women chalk it up to being a “team effort.” Now, it truly may have been a team effort, but this person complimented YOU. Say thank you, accept the praise, and move on. There is no need to downplay your accomplishments or deflect the compliment to other people out of embarrassment. It’s okay to do your job well and have others take notice!Women, change your language! If you want to be taken seriously in the workplace and be respected as an equal, you HAVE to change how you communicate.

How have YOU seen language make a difference?

Have you seen these gender communication differences play out in your own world? Have you ever caught yourself using any of these classically-female language barriers? I’ve known about the power of assertive language for over 15 years now, but I STILL catch myself using them! Wishy-washy, “polite,” feminine wording is ingrained SO deeply in our culture, it takes fighting tooth and nail to dig it out and replace it with strong, confident language.

If you’re interested in learning more about gender communication — especially in the workforce, but also when trying to communicate with your husband! — I HIGHLY recommend checking out Dr. Pat Heim’s presentation “He Said, She Said,” if you can find it somewhere. (I’m happy to loan out my copy to locals!) Her book Hardball for Women is also a fabulous read.

Alright, ladies. Let’s do this. Let’s change our language! Comment below and let me know how you want to change YOUR language this week. ?


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As a former University Resident Director, Career Counselor, Certified Personality Trainer, and high school Spanish teacher, Laura has quite the “scattered” background — with one underlying theme: education! She writes to teach and inspire women on topics related to faith, family, and lifework. She is also a resume writer, specializing in resumes for moms, career changers, and new graduates.

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