I first came across Quantified Communications when they did a piece in Fortune, covering the Most Powerful Women Summit last October. Their article featured a compelling study about the behavior and language used during CEO interviews by some of the world’s most powerful women, and that the most commonly used word was “think”, spoken 101 times on stage.
Research has demonstrated that women tend to use “tentative” language more frequently than their male counterparts. Hedging words such as “probably”, “might” and “maybe” are amongst those, which display a lack in confidence and uncertainty. In this particular case however, there was a disparity in how the word “think” came across when used in various contexts at the Summit because in some cases, its usage actually helped assert a more authoritative disposition.
The bottom line was that excessive use of tentative language often undermines one’s position unknowingly. Therefore it’s critical to be conscious of how you articulate your point, taking into account not only your body language but also the language you use.
I had the opportunity to connect with Briar Goldberg who is the Executive Communications practice lead at Quantified Communications, to discuss her expertise communication science. Briar has been working with corporate executives for the past five years on communicating more effectively using Quantified Communication’s data-driven approach.
Through her personal experiences in coaching female executives, she’s observed several trends that hold women back from progressing forward- and those include one’s ability to project confidence in their verbal delivery through words.
Here are her tips on harnessing one’s strength and confidence through the Power of Language.
1. “Limit requests that use hedging language.”
People often ‘hedge’ when they don’t want to sound ‘mean’ or ‘bossy’ when making a request or stating an opinion. Words such as “somewhat” or “just” are classic examples of hedging language. “Just” tends to come across apologetic and although it’s often use to soften a request, it can undermine your authority.
Hedging: “I just wanted to see if you’d be free for a meeting a 2pm.”
Authoritative: “Are you free for a meeting at 2pm?”
2. “Subtract disclaimers from your language.”
Disclaimers are statements that many people use as a means to protect themselves and their ideas from negative feedback. But, using them changes how absolute, certain or generalized a statement sounds. We often use disclaimers unintentionally which signals either uncertainty or a desire to please. In the examples below, the first part of the sentence is the disclaimer.
Disclaimer: “We can totally go in a different direction, but I think launching the new product in March is a good idea.”
Disclaimer: “I’ve only been here for a few years, but I’m worried that our sales strategy isn’t solid.”
3. “Learn how to move from tentative to concrete language.”
Quantified Communications recently ran an analysis with a sample set consisting of 500 women and 500 men. On average, and to no surprise, women used 8.6% more tentative language than men. The move from tentative to concrete language can take many forms. The first step is to cut out the tentative word/phrase and learn to incorporate concrete language. For example:
Tentative: “We had a pretty good quarter.”
Stronger statement without tentative language: “We had a good quarter.”
People can also sound more confident by adding more concrete information.
Tentative: “We had a pretty successful quarter.”
Concrete: “We closed 50 new deals this quarter.”
4. “Speaking in a Direct Manner.”
Quantified Communications research also found that, on average men communicate 24.6% more clearly than women. This means they use:
- Shorter/simpler sentence structures
- Every day, conversational words and phrases
- Active, precise verbs
Less Clear: The issuance of our guidance is dependent upon our ability to properly evaluate the situation in China.
More Clear: We’ll be able to give you the guidance you need once we better understand the situation in China.
There are many ways to strengthen your lexicon that include taking out hedging languages and qualifiers and replacing them with more substantive requests. It means thinking and speaking in a more direct and positive way. What are some adjustments you’ve made in your communications to being more effective?