This one’s for all you ladies out there. While the fellas may be equally as guilty of using today’s featured four letter word, we female types are, regretfully, more inclined to use it in our daily conversations.
This subtle, seemingly innocent, one-syllable word has recently caused some serious debate in the business world, among women and men alike – some even from the same publications sharing vastly opposing views! Media such as The Telegraph, attn:, Business Insider (and the scathingly contrasting view from another Business Insider writer) and the original instigator, Ellen Leanse, are all buzzing about one word and the heavy implications it carries.
What’s the word?
So, what’s the big deal? How can a word that seems so insignificant cause such a ruckus among so many people? And how could there possibly be so many different opinions about it?
Allow me to explain… and then of course give you my opinion about this silly little word:
“Just” has three primary and very different uses:
- As an adjective to describe a recent action or occurrence, as in, “I just left the meeting.”
a. No harm done here. You’ve merely specified that something happened just a few moments ago.
- To diminish the importance or difficulty of an activity, as in, “I just need you to help me with this one project” or “This just shouldn’t be that difficult.”
a. Ah – here’s where you’re starting to get into the dangerous side of “just”. When you add the word “just” to either of the above sentences, you have immediately reduced the importance of the work being done by another person. In the first sentence, you are requesting assistance from someone on a project. To make it seem like it isn’t very difficult or won’t take much time, many people add “just” as a qualifier. How irked will your co-worker or significant other be if that project runs into the wee hours of a Saturday morning or that kitchen remodel actually takes three months to complete? Using “just” here sets the wrong expectations in almost every case.
In the second sentence, you have downplayed the work someone else is doing by letting them know how minor it is to you. In reality, there may be several moving parts to a project that you aren’t aware of, causing stress for your employees. Making the work seem like less and making your employee feel inept may be an unintended outcome, but it’s a real outcome nonetheless.
3. To request permission or apology for an interruption, as in, “I’m just checking in on this” or “I was just wondering if you had a few minutes.”
a. This is the most hotly debated occurrence of the word: the permission occurrence. It’s the verbal equivalent of a shy knock on a door before sheepishly peering around the other side of the door with an uncomfortable smile.
Using the word “just” in this manner minimizes your message unnecessarily and is generally a symptom of not feeling justified in presenting ideas, making suggestions, or even taking up space – literally and metaphorically.
There are, of course, many different opinions about the third use of the word. Should women strive to remove it from their vocabulary entirely, in an effort to be both more aware and purposeful with their language and to take a stand against the need to be granted permission? Should everyone remove it from their vocabulary in an effort to be more concise and direct? Or should we all just ignore the uproar and not worry about how simple words like this may or may not impact how others perceive us and our messages?
While it’s up to each of us to choose wisely what we adhere to among all the tips, tricks, ideas, and advice coming at us daily, here’s where I stand on this issue: I tend to agree with the thought that using “just” as a permission word – whether it’s used purposefully to soften a request, or used inadvertently as an old habit – is a no-no. Don’t be apologetic for checking in on something because you didn’t hear back from someone. Don’t be sorry for asking a question that will make you better at your job. And don’t feel guilty for taking up space in someone’s inbox or conference room because you have a legitimate and time-sensitive need.
What’s more, I find the word to be unnecessary in almost every case other than to describe how recently something occurred (scenario 1 above). Economy of language doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.
My advice? Strike this dirty four letter word from your vocabulary. And be more aware of when you do catch yourself using it. Yes, I think it’s appropriate to monitor your words to ensure they are accurate and effective and received by others as such. What can it hurt to remove just one word to see how it keeps you mindful of your communication patterns and effectiveness?
Just some food for thought.
Practice Building Consultant
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555