Gender, Influence and the Use of Qualifiers

Your organization has a major operational problem. A strategic team has been called together to come up with a solution. You have winnowed the options down to three (3) after four (4) long meetings.

The leader of the group asks each individual to state his or her choice. Your choice is Option A.

Let’s consider some options:

You say: “My best guess is Option A.”

What may be heard: “If after all of this discussion you only have a guess, I’m not sure why we included you in these discussions.”

You say: “I feel that Option A would be best.”

What may be heard: “Feelings are not facts. Where is the analysis?”

You say: “I believe Option A is the best alternative.”

What may be heard: “I’m glad that is what you believe, but is that the right alternative?”

You say: “I think Option A is the best option.”

What may be heard: “I’m glad that you are thinking, but I sense some hesitancy.”

You say: “In my judgment, Option A is the best alternative.”

What may be heard (hopefully): “He or she has judgment and is exercising it in favor of Option A.”

By beginning with “in my judgment,” you are implicitly acknowledging that there are other viable options. However, you are making clear your preference, with the meta message being that you have good judgment, too.

This is more than simply semantics. We all know how we communicate affects our influence.. This is true for both men and women alike. However, the issue may be particularly important for women to consider.

We know that directness engaged in by a man may be seen less favorably when engaged in by a woman. Accordingly, to anticipate the bias, women sometimes hedge. None of the above examples is hypothetical.

Unfortunately, the hedge may make the woman appear weak, even when she is not. Anticipating the bias results in weak language which reinforces the bias.

You can be confident without exhibiting hubris. Beginning with “In my judgment,” is but one way to do so.

I guess it’s time to end this blog. Don’t you think?

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