…because some thoughts are worth remembering
When I quickly scan my email response to someone before I hit send, I would make a few edits to make my requests or comments clearer. I might reword something to get more to the point or delete words that seem chatty, the equivalent of “ah” and “um” in the written form. There are words we insert that aren’t needed and they weren’t place to mean what the word originally meant, like “just”, “basically”, “kind of”, and the excessive use of the exclamation mark.
I edited them out because I felt my “voice” could be clearer. If my sentence did not reflect the sense of urgency or magnitude or excitement, I was being lazy using 3 exclamation marks to do the trick. If I did mean something (and didn’t mean “this is a type of x”) and yet I included “kind of” in a sentence, I was being wishy washy.
An article I just came across showed that at least the use of the word “just” in communication was a signature for a female voice.
Having had the privilege of leading multiple entities as a female leader in tech and innovation and having studied physics, I’ve developed a voice that is my own that seem to put others at ease without compromising my identity. I evaluate the quality of communication as effective or not, whether it is a recorded segment of a press event or a written report. I hadn’t thought about communication style being female or feminine, since my Humanities class where scholars could tell some journal fragments they found were written by a woman because of the excess use of exclamation mark.
Other signatures of ineffective communication for me includes the filler words (um, ah) but also the rising in the tone at the end of a statement as if it were a question. I don’t know if I hear it more from women or not, but I certainly notice it when people are less confident or nervous. The rising of the tone definitely reflects a level of subordination, as if there is an invitation given to the listeners to then jump in and correct or acknowledge that statement before you can go on.
The same article talked about the choice of vocabulary such as mentor vs. advisor, where mentor immediately paints a picture of a hierarchy. It’s an important distinction for women to have a healthy relationship with people we interact to receive advice or to give advice to and from others, whether they are men or women. One of the shortcomings of a leader often cited is the lack of giving praise. I’ve seen new managers uncomfortable in their new role avoid giving praise, because there is a built in hierarchy associated with giving praise others, that the praise giver is higher up in the hierarchy. (In these cases, I encourage the new managers, male or female, to thank others rather than to give praise, because the object we are trying to achieve is acknowledgement, which can be done just as well by showing thanks.)
The “female” voice is important and useful not only in situations that are regarded as more nurturing or emotionally sensitive (e.g., in counseling, comforting a friend), but can also be powerful in situations that are more stereotypically “male” (e.g., negotiations, debate). It’s when we are unaware of our own voice that we fail to communicate effectively. The use of the word “just” may be more of a female trait (now), but I’d rather view it as different tools we develop and maintain in our tool box, or gears we construct and select according to the situation.
Photo: A sculpture of a woman in front of the City Hall in Odense, Denmark