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The Most Common Communication Mistakes Women Make

The Most Common Communication Mistakes Women Make

Report after report indicates that women are inching their way into senior leadership positions at a snail’s pace, even though they are hard-working, possess strong work ethics, and are regularly outpacing men in all disciplines with university degrees.

So what else is holding them back? The co-founders of Breakthrough note, "Confidence is the underlying issue permeating all of leadership presence." This confidence is reflected not just from our body language, but the phrases and words we use in our daily communication.

It’s well-known that women and men communicate differently. On average, women use nearly three times as many words as men to communicate verbally. Without a doubt, women include more exclamation marks, emotions, and emojis in their written communication; they are often more expressive speakers, too.

I am quite guilty of this. Until recently, if I didn’t add an emoji to my correspondence, it felt incomplete. Not only that, but when I replied to appreciative or congratulatory posts, I inserted every heart-shaped emoji I could find. I would even stop to check if I had inserted an equal number of emojis for every respondent, lest someone get offended that they got one less.

Soon, my emojis found their way to LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. While I was always careful about sending heart-shaped emojis to professionals of the opposite gender, I inundated my female contacts with visual love. After reading an article discouraging their use, I realized how acute my problem was. I couldn’t transition from excessive emoji use to no emojis at all! What would people think?

However, soon after I started using more formal communications, I noticed a big difference. Because others were so used to "seeing" me communicate, they saw me differently when I stopped using emojis in my e-mails. They started taking my requests and comments more seriously. If you share my emoji addiction, now might be the time to consider removing them from your professional e-mails, because communicating confidence has a lot to do with the language you use.

Let’s look at some other phrases and words that we could avoid using excessively in our daily communication.

[Related: The New Confidence Rules]

Thanks... Just... I think... I was wondering....

As Anna Wickham writes in her blog:

It’s not about the emojis, emoticons, and exclamation marks themselves. It’s about the sentiment behind them. The next time you use a smiley face in a work e-mail, consider why you wrote it. To soften a critique? To let the person know that you aren’t angry for some reason? Try to figure out what you’re trying to convey, then ask yourself whether you need to convey it.

Women tend to use certain words or phrases more than their male counterparts. These include saying sorry, overusing "thanks" and "just," or adding phrases like "I think" and "I was wondering."

These words and phrases diminish the importance of what you do and the recognition you deserve. They water down your authority at work and load your statements with ambiguity, leaving the misconception that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s a way of creeping up to a question and taking the edge off something directly.

Referring to our increasing use of "thank you," Wickham further points out:

There’s an implicit gratefulness (for everything) present, even when the person on the receiving end is not doing you any favor in particular. Remember, no one is offering favors out of the goodness of his/her heart. This is work. You are doing your job. They are doing their job. You don’t need to be apologetic or overly polite for asking for something.

[Related: Do You Think, Maybe, You Could Possibly Read This? If It's Not a Problem?]

Actually... But... Maybe... Perhaps...

In Tara Mohr’s How Women Undermine Themselves With Words, she suggests avoiding the word "actually" and other qualifiers that undermine our position: "maybe," "perhaps," "I actually disagree," "I actually have a question," "I’m no expert in this, but…" or asking "Does that make sense?" or "Am I making sense?" These phrases weaken your position before you’ve even stated your opinion.

Admittedly, I often use these phrases, especially "Does it make sense?" when I want to confirm that I am on the same page as others. But this phrase comes across as either condescending (as in, your audience can’t understand) or implying that you didn’t coherently communicate your thought.

It’s not just about eliminating certain trends and phrases; it’s about demonstrating that your opinion is valid, your viewpoint is legitimate, and your recommendations and thoughts are worthy, and thus you have the right to step up and speak.

You can do this by having your own style without needing to emulate anyone. By replacing meaningless and unnecessary words with words of value, you can change the impact of the entire conversation and how others perceive you.

Fearless communication empowers your message instead of watering it down. It also helps you look confident, even if you don’t feel the same.

[Related: How to Fake It Till You Make It in Tech]

Hira Ali is a leadership trainer, motivational speaker, writer, executive career coach and licensed NLP practitioner. She is the founder of Advancing Your Potential.


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Jenny Hedderman, Esq.

Great advise Hira! Nice to see new perspectives!

November 21, 2019

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