This week’s post will be pretty short and sweet. Not because I can’t think of enough to say about it, but because I don’t have a multi-step process to fix it.
Last week I had the privilege of facilitating a workshop on developing personal statements for a kick-butt company in town that really invests in their employees. I’ve worked with them before and always enjoy my time there. Their team is full of really intelligent, articulate, ambitious people. All of whom can be somewhat intimidating. Which I love!
We were nearing the end of the workshop and it was time for them to begin sharing the personal statements that they each developed with the group. This was to allow two benefits – one, to practice saying them out loud, and two, to get feedback from the group.
Every single one of the participants, without exception, started their turn with apologies, excuses, and a list of qualifiers as to why their personal statement may not be the best one ever written. I was a little dumbfounded. How did a group of really confident people become reduced to such insecurity so quickly? I know that the exercises we did during the workshop were outside of their comfort zone, but everyone was starting from the same spot and no one expected anyone to be an expert at this already.
So why the qualifiers?
Using apologies, excuses, and qualifiers prior to making a statement always comes across as a sign of lack of confidence and insecurity. And we all know that the person with the most confidence always wins – regardless of level of competence. So, why do really intelligent and normally confident people, especially women, do this?
I know that sometimes it comes from a place of true insecurity. When we are pushed outside of our comfort zone or experiencing something unfamiliar, we will use apologies, excuses, and qualifiers to lower others’ expectations of us in an attempt to protect ourselves. If we point out the flaws first or make sure everyone in the room understands that we’ve never done this before so we won’t be reviewed as harshly as those who do have experience in this area. We think that if we point out the obvious, then no one will be thinking it to themselves and think less of us.
But why do we have to point it out at all? Why do we feel the need to draw attention to the fact that we don’t think we know what we are doing? What if we just went for it and waited for the reaction? I bet that more often than not, people would feel we had it under control because we look like we have it under control.
I was the guest speaker at a luncheon recently where one of the attendees felt it necessary to come explain to me why she was dressed in jeans. Why? They were very nice jeans and she looked pulled together. There is no dress code for the luncheon and it’s not like she showed up in cut off shorts and an old t-shirt. Why would she feel the need to offer me an explanation? Maybe it was because she thought I would judge her? I guarantee that I would not have even looked twice at her jeans if she hadn’t mentioned them to me. I can’t ever imagine a man needing to explain to anyone else why he was in a pair of khakis instead of a suit.
Sometimes we need to deliver a message that we are afraid won’t be received well so we begin by using apologies, excuses, and qualifiers to soften the tone. I see this happen a lot in the consulting field and I am often guilty of this one. We know that the client is not going to like what we say so we use a lot of words to lower their defenses. While we are trying to use words that make it more likely for us to move our client from point A to point B, we come across as not confident in the direction we are advising.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that regardless of the reason why we use them, using unnecessary apologies, excuses, and qualifiers always comes across as a lack of confidence. And some of the most confident women I know use them…constantly. I don’t get it when I hear others doing it. I don’t get it when I hear myself do it. But I do know that if we want to be seen as being as confident as our male counterparts, we have to stop.
As I said earlier, I don’t have a multiple step process for getting people to stop using unnecessary qualifiers in their communications. I just have one step:
Don’t do it!
Be unapologetic in the presentation of your ideas. Don’t make excuses, just make your point.
Remember, the person with the most confidence wins – regardless of competence. People want to follow people who are confident. No one is going to want to follow the person who admits they just threw this plan together off the top of their head or have a bunch of reasons why it may not be the best plan. They want to follow the person who is confident in where they are going, even if they did just throw it together five minutes ago.