How to send signals you are not important

Our language habits can send signals to people that say ‘Don’t take me seriously. I’m not important. I’m really a doormat.’

Then we complain when others ignore us, interrupt us, denigrate us.

What we’ve done is teach others about how to treat us. Here’s some of the ways we speak that can sabotage our stature:

  • Referring to ourselves with ‘just’. I’m just a housewife, mother, secretary, manager … The word ‘just’ can be used in many ways. Many of those uses imply smallness or less in some sense. We don’t need to tell people we think we’re not important.
  • Referring to ourselves with ‘only’. Same as for ‘just’. And it also implies that there’s nothing more to me. ‘I’m only a secretary’ says I’m not important and there’s nothing more to me than this.
  • Apologising often for matters that do not warrant one. If done often we sound like we’re apologising for our very existence.
  • Asking permission for things that are within our authority. Know the boundaries of where you can take independent action and act on them.
  • Assuming inequality. No matter who you talk to assume you are their equal. This does not mean being disrespectful or ignoring courtesies (for example if someone has a title then you should use it.)
  • Using questions instead of statements. If you have an opinion to express, state it as a statement rather than a question. ‘I think we should break for lunch’ is a statement. ‘What would you think if we took a break for lunch?’ is a question. Decide when you wish to be direct and make statements.
  • Qualifiers that avoid being direct. Habits such as using ‘we sort of’, ‘it’s kind of like’ are a way of avoiding making statement that commit us to a view. Frequent use makes us sound as though we’re never certain about what we think.

Listen to see if you have any of these habits.

If listening to yourself is not your strength, ask a trusted colleague to monitor your speech habits.

If you think you have an unhelpful habit pause before you say something.

Think through what you say before making an utterance.

Practice in low risk situations.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.