The Perils of Powerless Speech Part 2: There’s an App for That!

just not sorryBy Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.

Good news! Now, you don’t need to re-read your emails looking for the subtle ways you might be undermining your authority – as the saying goes, “There’s an app for that!” Called “Just Not Sorry,” the app highlights the language choices that I wrote about in an earlier blog (e.g., hedges like “I think,” intensifiers like “really,” and other qualifiers like, “just” or “actually”).

Recently, author Christina Cauterucci interviewed Tami Reiss the CEO of Cyrus Innovation, a software development consulting firm that specializes in women-led companies and tech teams, and part of the team that developed the “Just Not Sorry.” She and others referenced in the article reinforce that these language choices are not only unnecessary filler, but can also undermine the sender’s authority. As I wrote about, these language choices are so ingrained in us (particularly women), that without something or someone pointing them out, we are left unaware of the unintended consequences – hence, the app.

What I love about the app (specifically, the publicity surrounding the app), and the other popular culture references on this subject, is that it is bringing to the forefront an issue that can be divisive, but is ripe for change. For example, over the years while speaking on this subject, there would invariably be someone who felt like addressing the issue was an attack on women, but that could not be further from the truth. Addressing the issue of what has been historically labeled as “powerless” speech is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gender bias issues. As Cauterucci points out:

One reason why women have adopted these kinds of speech and writing patterns is because, historically, they’ve gotten pushback for appearing too decisive and demanding (read: just as decisive and demanding as men). Making fun of the way women speak, when they’ve been socialized for a lifetime to take up as little physical, temporal, and aural space as possible, is not productive and can further erode their self-confidence.

She’s completely correct. Simply saying, “Don’t talk like that,” isn’t enough. Women AND men should understand how gender bias in the workplace (which, obviously, includes the legal arena) influences how women are perceived by all those they communicate with. This, though, does not mean we shouldn’t address the negative ways in which women can be perceived due to unintentional language choices. Therefore, the message from the original blog still stands – whether you use the app, you videotape a rehearsal of your opening/closing, you ask for direct feedback in your communication encounters – do what you can to weed out the unintentional use of powerless language. “I’m sorry” – it’s “just” necessary.