By Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.
A few weeks ago I was listening to a judge give his rulings on a number of pre-trial motions. With each ruling, he began by saying, “I’m inclined to find …” The first time, I didn’t really think anything of it, but a few hours and dozens of motions later, it was clear that this judge could not make a simple and strong declarative statement. While I typically do not look for opportunities to “take on” a judge, this particular example of a powerless speaking style deserves some attention namely because of the position and also because the judge was a man.
For years, I’ve studied, lectured, and written on gender communication. The “powerful – powerless” communication continuum is part of that work and is used to describe the difference between stereotypical male vs. female communication styles. The “female” end of the continuum is often associated with “powerless” speech – speech that includes hedges and qualifiers: “perhaps,” “maybe,” “I think,” “kind of,” or “I guess”; speech that includes intensifiers: “so,” “really,” and “very”; speech that includes hesitations: “um” and “uh”; and speech that includes disclaimers: “I’m not sure, but…” or “I’m not an expert, but…” Reading these, it should be obvious that the use of these types of phrases or words weaken the statements being made. Continue reading