Much has been made of how the word 鈥渟orry鈥 might sabotage women, both in and out of the office. 鈥淔or so many women, myself included, apologies are inexorably linked with our conception of politeness,鈥 says Sloane Crosley in a recent New York Times piece. But instead of broadcasting good manners, what 鈥渟orry鈥 really does is get in women鈥檚 way. 鈥淭he sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want,鈥 she says. Now, the latest buzz is that in addition to 鈥渟orry,鈥 women have just got to stop saying 鈥渏ust.鈥


After realizing female friends and coworkers used 鈥渏ust鈥 more than men, LinkedIn influencer and Google alum Ellen Petry Leanse tackled the subject in a blog post that鈥檚 been spreading like wildfire. 鈥淚t hit me that there was something about the word I didn鈥檛 like. It was a 鈥榩ermission鈥 word, in a way 鈥 a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking, 鈥楥an I get something I need from you?鈥欌 Leanse says.

Even worse, it could lead to a child-parent dynamic, with whoever was doing the 鈥渏ust鈥漣ng immediately being in a position of subordination. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a subtle thing. You should be taking an assertive stand when you have something to say, but 鈥榡ust鈥 has a negative connotation that can undermine your confidence,鈥 says Alexandra Levit, co-founder of the Career Advisory Board.

To combat this effect, Leanse looped in her coworkers and they made a vow to eliminate the word. 鈥淲e started noticing when and how we used 鈥榡ust鈥 and outing each other when we slipped,鈥 Leanse says. 鈥淥ver time, frequency diminished. And as it did we felt a change in our communication鈥攅ven our confidence. We didn鈥檛 dilute our messages with a word that weakened them.鈥

While it鈥檚 an intriguing argument, there鈥檚 been some backlash to the suggestion that women need to alter how they speak in order to be taken more seriously. 鈥淎t first blush, all of this speaking advice sounds like empowerment. Stop sugarcoating everything, ladies! Don鈥檛 hedge your requests! Refuse to water down your opinions! But are women the ones who need to change?鈥 says Ann Friedman on The Cut, wondering why everyone is focusing so much on how women talk. 鈥淚f I鈥檓 saying something intelligent and all a listener can hear is the way I鈥檓 saying it, whose problem is that?鈥

While Levit admits it would be nice if how women spoke didn鈥檛 matter, she says that鈥檚 simply not the reality of the world today. 鈥淎s women, we need to take charge of the way we come across and do everything in our power to combat negative perceptions. Sometimes that means acting a little more aggressively and eliminating certain words from our vocabulary,鈥 Levit says. Ready to distance yourself from 鈥渏ust鈥 and 鈥渟orry鈥? Here are Levit鈥檚 tips:

1. Focus on writing first.

Before you鈥檙e used to life without these two words, it鈥檚 easiest to catch yourself slipping in emails. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a good habit in general to proof emails for unnecessary words before you send them out,鈥 says Levit, who suggests you ask yourself these three things: Does anything sound too wordy or include any unnecessary information? Are any action items clearly explained? Lastly, are there any words that are undermining the message? If so, take them out. 鈥溾楯ust鈥 often shows up right in the beginning, when you say you鈥檙e just checking in or just wanted to see if they have something you need,鈥 says Levit.

2. Only apologize when it鈥檚 actually necessary.

It鈥檚 especially tempting to slip into the 鈥渟orry鈥 habit in the beginning of your career or when you鈥檙e at a new job and generally unsure of how you鈥檙e doing. It鈥檚 still worth it to stop, says Levit. 鈥淩eserve the use of 鈥業鈥檓 sorry鈥 for when you鈥檝e done something wrong. Don鈥檛 apologize for doing a job, taking people鈥檚 time, or offering them something of value,鈥 says Levit.

3. Emulate women you admire.

Think of well-respected women who are high up at your job, then take a cue from them. 鈥淩ead their emails carefully and make note of their communication style. You obviously want to have your own, but some people have really mastered a friendly, yet firm assertiveness,鈥 says Levit. If you work in a male-dominated industry or from home, turn to quotes from and videos of incredible women like Kerry Washington and Sheryl Sandberg for your powerful-ladies fix.

Will you be more conscious of the 鈥渟orry鈥 habit at work? Weigh in the comments below.

This post was originally published on Levo League by Zahra Barnes.