Creator's Block | Podcasts & Shows | Leadership

"Are 'Undermining Words' a Crime?" (Creator's Block, Ep. 51)

Liz Murphy

Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

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Are 'Undermining Words' a Crime? (Creator's Block, Ep. 51) Blog Feature

Published on December 5th, 2017

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A couple of years ago, while working at Quintain, a plugin for Gmail called Just Not Sorry started making the rounds.

The stated goal of the app was to help women specifically use fewer "undermining words" in their emails -- like "I think," "just," and "sorry."  So, whenever you type an email, the undermining words would be underlined, as if you misspelled something.

At the time, this seemed very helpful to me, since I tend to apologize, even when I haven’t done anything wrong. Or, sometimes I act as if what I’m asking for is a bother, when all I'm trying to do is get my work done, just like everyone else.

Flash forward to today, and while I still apply some of the principles I learned through the usage of Just Not Sorry, I haven't reinstalled the plugin in my IMPACT email. 

However, I noticed last week that I was getting stuck trying to reword emails to be less apologetic. There was one email in particular, where I felt incredibly awkward. Not because I was being overly-apologetic, but rather everything I tried to say sounded completely unnatural when I tried to avoid undermining myself verbally.

I was frustrated and, ultimately, spent close to 30 minutes tripping over myself not trying to say words that were now considered "bad."

Which got me thinking about this whole debate all over again.

Are these "undermining words" really a bad thing?

Should we be trying to fix them? Is there some truth to women in the workplace feeling like they need to apologize more, or is this a case of women’s behavior coming under undue scrutiny?

Enjoy!

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What We Talked About

  • What are "undermining words," and why are women the target of this conversation?
  • When does avoiding those types of words go too far?
  • Is the whole debate even productive, or is it another case of society being hyper-critical of female behavior in the workplace?
  • Are these words and phrases simply a sign of compassion or contextual awareness?
  • What does this discussion say about male and female expectations in leadership and power dynamics?

Resources We Discussed

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