One Word You Should Never Use In a Conversation

fizkes/iStock via Getty Images
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images / fizkes/iStock via Getty Images

It’s been over a week since you emailed your colleague with an important request, and still you’ve received no response. Knowing they’re probably swamped with other things and loathing the thought of seeming annoying or rude, you type out the most cheerful, least threatening follow-up email you can come up with.

“I just wanted to check in on…” it begins.

If this situation sounds familiar, it’s probably not the only message in your outbox that includes the word just. As The Guardian points out, adding just is fine if there’s a specific reason you want your email to sound conciliatory—say, for example, you’re asking the recipient to complete a project before the agreed-upon deadline, or squeeze in one more meeting on a day that they’ve already indicated is booked.

Often, however, we use just as a way of apologizing when there isn’t really anything for which to apologize. In a LinkedIn blog post, Google’s former head of global marketing communications Ellen Petry Leanse explains that just frequently functions as a “subtle message of subordination, or deference,” thus giving the recipient more control over the conversation. And it won’t just weaken your message—it might also weaken others’ impression of you as a strong, decisive communicator.

Leanse also noticed that, on her team, women were more likely than men to pepper their messages with just. To see if striking the word would make any difference, Leanse and her team agreed to work on omitting the word whenever possible. Over time, they felt their confidence levels go up, and their communication became clearer and more direct.

Of course, Leanse’s case study is only one non-scientific example of just’s permeative impact on employees, and not every workplace is the same. But it could be worth trying a similar experiment on your own to see if a moratorium on that pesky little word has a positive effect on how others see you—and how you see yourself, too.

[h/t The Guardian]