In Britain, we have a tendency of saying ‘sorry’ in almost every phrase we mutter, but women do it far more often than men. All it takes is for someone to let us walk past them and the word is already slipping out of our mouths as if we were a major inconvenience. It’s polite, right? Unfortunately, using qualifying language has become a social norm for many women leaving them with a somewhat unassertive position in their workplace. Women in business tend to include the words ‘just’, ‘sorry’ and ‘I’m no expert but’ in their communication and it is often seen as passive. Do women have to change their diction to earn respect amongst their colleagues?

According to Tamis Reiss, from Cyrus Innovation, they do. Whilst at brunch with the League of Extraordinary Women, the group found themselves admitting to using ‘woman in a meeting’ language. This is where some women convolute their points with unnecessary words to soften their speech. Why? To avoid coming across as bossy or arrogant and instead being seen as polite. In order to stop undermining themselves, Tamis created a Gmail plugin to highlight specific words that weakened their authority in an email. They called it ‘Just Not Sorry’.

Just Not Sorry App in action

The extension is simple. Once installed, it underlines any superfluous words or expressions in red – much like a spelling error – and explains why that particular phrase or keyword is harmful to the tone of your email. The concept seems popular and has just under 40, 000 users to date, but some people worry that women are adopting a more masculine style of communication to gain respect.

Harriet Minter, editor of the Guardian’s Women in Leadership section, disagrees with the adaptation of language simply to please others. She believes that this Google Chrome extension has “led us further down the road to hell.” Gender inequality is still a huge problem across the globe, particularly in the workplace. Her argument is: we should not trap ourselves in a men’s world so let us communicate the way we want.

To a certain extent, the perception of female behaviour in an office is often misunderstood. Pantene campaigns #ShineStrong and A Man’s Boss, A Woman’s Bossy, depicted these issues quite clearly. The solutions revolve around self-belief and strength with a particular focus on the use of language. Jennifer Lawrence shone a spotlight on this specific issue in Hollywood with an essay she wrote in Lena Dunham’s newsletter. It all started because she spoke her mind in a blunt and direct manner resulting in a colleague being offended. In response, Jennifer Lawrence ‘translated’ famous quotes into ‘woman in a meeting’ language (see below) to combat the reaction she received and gave the issue a global platform. Comical, but incredibly eye opening, Jennifer Lawrence showed the world that women do not have to communicate in a passive voice because, quite frankly, it can be quite ridiculous.

“Let my people go.”

Woman in a Meeting: “Pharaoh, listen, I totally hear where you’re coming from on this. I totally do. And I don’t want to butt in if you’ve come to a decision here, but, just, I have to say, would you consider that an argument for maybe releasing these people could conceivably have merit? Or is that already off the table?”

“I came. I saw. I conquered.”

Woman in a Meeting: “I don’t want to toot my own horn here at all but I definitely have been to those places and was just honored to be a part of it as our team did such a wonderful job of conquering them.”

So is it politeness or passiveness that so many women seem to emulate? Personally, I believe it isn’t just a woman’s problem. A shift in the mindset is paramount to allow both genders to communicate without appearing as weak or overly arrogant. One should be able to show humility and ‘thank a person for their time’, but also have a direct approach when delegating and sharing opinions. It is the balance between the two that should gain respect amongst colleagues regardless of gender and their chosen style of communication. Fortunately, the app has extended to being an office tool for all employees.


All ‘Opinion’ pieces are the opinions of the author, not Quick Formations.