We have all been guilty of using the word ‘just’ in an email to make ourselves sound less demanding, less rude and altogether more palatable. Women are particularly susceptible to this need to seem diminutive and respectful. This blog is all about how to sound assertive and polite at the same time without hiding behind false deference.
There is a pretty simple solution; if you have a request - make it. If there’s a problem, lay it down. Obfuscating doesn’t do you any favours and often a simple, straight to the point email is more well respected. Keep the tone light and you can’t go too far wrong.
The fact of the matter is that ‘just’ actually makes you sound small and submissive. If you’re trying to sound incomparable to the recipient as a mark of respect or in the spirit of faux self deprecation, it’s a worthless, transparent enterprise, so don’t bother. Don’t diminish your questions or input. On completion of a successful project, stating that ‘I just dealt with the loose ends’ means you automatically step back in the eyes of leadership. People notice those who want to be noticed, and you can be assertive without being arrogant or rude. If you were part of a success, then own that part. Say instead; ‘yes it was a challenge but I’m really pleased with the outcome’. If you were part of the team you deserve part of the credit.
We as humans are generally sensitive to criticism or feeling undervalued, so we put ‘just’ in to beat the other person too it. They can’t make you feel small if you’ve already made yourself so.
Remember - if it is a recent action -- that’s ok. If you’re just leaving the office, there is no harm. If you are telling someone you are just a PA - that’s a problem. Don’t undervalue the work and dedication it took you to get where you are and don’t have any patience with those who do.
It is the same when managing a team. ‘I just want you to send an email’ means ‘you shouldn’t find it hard’. This immediately shuts down an avenue for guidance or help and makes your employee immediately feel insecure if they are struggling. Something easy for you might be impossible for someone else, so remember this feeling of diminished capacity can flow both ways. The word ‘just’ closes the door on discussion and feedback which is incredibly useful if you want to know what is going on amongst your team members.
It also makes people feel massively unappreciated. Stating ‘they just did the initial research’ is a real insult to a colleagues work ethic. Every part of a team has a use.
In the case of running your own business, there is a need to be seen as invincible but don’t email clients with an ‘I just thought… or ‘I just organised’. If you are providing a service to your clients and they are pleased, capitalise on that. Don’t undervalue your company from the inside.
No matter your age, seniority or gender, you don’t need to rationalise your use of an email or a question. ‘Can I just ask’ is a unnecessary way to ask a question -- if you aren’t sure about something, you need to ask the question. By sliding in a ‘just’, you’re sending a signal to the entire room that you deserve to be treated as one rung lower than everyone else. No one else will push you up that ladder, you have to guide yourself. Don’t disadvantage yourself from the start.
It doesn’t make you less inconvenient, it just makes you smaller. Time to think big.