Find Out If You Do Things to Undermind Yourself and Learn More Effective Habits

Running a business is hard and there’s no doubt that women have unique challenges when they take on leadership roles. Often, these challenges are based on subtle, but deeply-rooted cultural messages.

From a young age, women are often told not to be too loud, while young boys are commonly encouraged to be bold and strong-willed. These types of messages can have a lasting effect on children as they are repeated consistently throughout their lives. In some cases, they impact the confidence of women, and their ability to be assertive both personally and professionally.

These long-held gender biases are particularly relevant in the business world. Despite major steps towards equality, women are still neither as well-represented nor as well-rewarded as men in positions of leadership in the UK.

Often, it comes down to simple communication skills. The ability to communicate effectively is the key to success in every area of life. Whether you’re talking to a romantic partner, a prospective customer, or a colleague, communication skills will determine the outcome. That’s why, especially as a female leader, it’s important to be aware of your conditioning and inner critic to communicate effectively.

At Invoice2go, we want every entrepreneur and business leader out there — especially those that may have been traditionally marginalised due to their race or gender — to get the respect and professional opportunities they deserve. 

It is a big part of our mission to empower women, so much so that we sponsor and produce The Female Founders Network. This podcast and Facebook group aims to arm entrepreneurs with valuable information as well as providing a supportive female-focused community.

There’s never been a better time for women to step up and embrace leadership roles in the UK. Research shows that today, 34% of SMEs in the UK are run by women, a jump from 19% in 2017. But, even though the numbers are increasing, that doesn’t mean our work here is done. There’s still plenty of work to do, and changing communication plays a big part.

Here are 5 ways that you can help yourself at work, just by changing the way you speak.

1. Stop minimising your achievements.

When given the same task, studies show that women will almost always report that they have performed less well than they actually have, while men will often say they’ve performed better than they actually have. The reality is, most often they perform at the same level.

Gone are the days of trying to be polite just because you’ve always been told to. In an attempt not to boast, women are seen as less ambitious than men in the workplace, and this lack of ambition is then viewed negatively by employers. 

Can you think of times when you’ve tried not to brag? While we don’t suggest becoming boastful, recognise your value and hard work is an essential part of building your confidence — both personally and professionally.

One of the ways you can get better at acknowledging yourself is to take time each week to reflect and write down your accomplishments. If you like, you can share them with someone you feel safe with or just keep them for yourself. Writing down small wins can improve your motivation to chase bigger dreams. Once you get into the habit of doing this regularly, you will likely notice increased confidence.

There’s also no need to apologise for your successes in professional or personal conversation. You weren’t just lucky — it took hard work to achieve these goals. Each time you’re tempted to add a caveat to one of your achievements, remember that diminishing your achievements gives others permission to do the same. 

The respect you get from others starts with the respect you give yourself. While you don’t need to boast, take pride in what you’ve accomplished, and avoid playing it down. If someone compliments your work, get into the habit of thanking them instead of saying “it was nothing”.

If you’re concerned about receiving attacks for your accomplishments or ambitions, remember this: Successful leaders around the world don’t concern themselves with being liked. Instead, they focus more on the outcomes they are trying to achieve.

There’s no denying that being criticized and feeling disliked can hurt – especially if you receive those messages from those you care about. But, remember, if someone tries to cut you down or makes a personal attack on you, often it’s a reflection of their own insecurities. Know your worth and focus on moving the needle towards your goals. 

2. Stop apologising.

Research shows that women apologise more than men. But, is saying you’re sorry really a bad thing?

It can be. While apologising can be a powerful way to show empathy and mend damage in a relationship, it isn’t always helpful. Women often find themselves apologising out of habit rather than necessity. Perhaps it’s saying “sorry to bother you” when asking a colleague for assistance at work. Or, perhaps it’s apologising to the waiter when you send back uncooked food at a restaurant. Sound familiar?

Unless you’ve truly done something hurtful to a coworker, client or colleague, there’s no need to apologise. In fact, over-apologising can make you seem less confident, cause others to lose respect for you, or even hurt your own self-esteem.

Think you might be an over-apologiser? Become mindful of how many times you apologise each day. Once you are aware of it, you may find yourself apologising simply for sharing your opinion, disagreeing with a colleague or business partner, standing behind your need for work-life balance, or taking a day or two to respond to a non-urgent email. These apologies aren’t needed, and they can undermine your expertise within a business setting. 

It’s best to save “I’m sorry” for times important matters.

What can you say instead? It may seem very un-British not to apologise, but you can replace your “Sorry” with a “Thank you” and stay polite. For example, if you’ve kept someone waiting, try, “Thank you for waiting” instead of “Sorry for making you wait”. If you just made a complaint, try. “Thank you for your understanding,” instead of “Sorry for complaining”.

Bonus: 

If you find yourself using undermining language in emails, try the Just Not Sorry app. This tool highlights weak language in your emails for you to edit before hitting send.

3. Stop talking yourself down.

Have you ever found yourself using the phrase “Correct me if I’m wrong but….?” when you’re expressing your opinion? Or perhaps you often slip into conversations “I stand to be corrected but”, “Just my opinion”, or “I’m no expert”. You’re not alone. Women are four times more likely to use this kind of language than men. 

While you might use this language to sound polite, these phrases communicate uncertainty. If you don’t sound convinced by your words, how can you expect others to be?

Often, women refrain from using powerful language. Speaking in this way is a habit that is developed through childhood and early adulthood, but it can be changed. The more you notice yourself speaking this way, you can begin to steer yourself away from it and communicate more confidently. Language has a strong influence on our mindset, so changing your words can actually impact how you feel.

Here are some practical examples. Transform phrases like, “I think I can do that” to “I can do that”. “I will try” becomes “I will”, and “I hope I can” becomes “I can”. You’ll also want to stop saying “just” too.

If possible, talk about these language issues with a trusted friend or colleague. Simulate a presentation or business meeting and have them pull you up whenever you apologise or use the phrases mentioned above. You can even build awareness on your own, taking note when you find yourself using these words throughout the day.

Remember: 

When you sound confident, the people you are speaking to begin to trust you. This trust is essential when building your business.

4. Inspire confidence through your pitch and tone.

The way you communicate isn’t just about the words that you use. In fact, 38% of any message is conveyed through tone of voice. A more resonant voice conveys trustworthiness and competence. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven that people prefer leaders with deeper voices, regardless of their gender.

Margaret Thatcher famously employed a voice coach to teach her to lower her register to sound more authoritative. Hilary Clinton also proactively adapted her voice over her career.

When you’re communicating, beware of uptalk. When a person raises their pitch at the end of a sentence, it communicates to their audience that they might be asking a question. It goes without saying that if it’s done often, you can give off an impression of uncertainty.

The bottom line: It’s time to say goodbye to your baby voice as it is undermining your ability to be taken seriously — regardless of your expertise. Although uptalk and higher pitches can make language sound more friendly, they can also hinder those seeking to be leaders. Practice speaking from the chest and diaphragm so that you’ll convey warmth, clarity, and confidence. Want to take it one step further? Practising deep breathing before important meetings and positive self-talk before crucial conversations can also help you control your pitch and tone. 

If controlling your tone feels uncomfortable, try recording yourself speaking into the mirror. Listen back to see what speech habits you can evolve or new communication tools you can adapt. 

5. Stop asking for permission.

Constantly seeking approval? So much talent goes untapped, and many dreams go unfulfilled because people are waiting to be given permission to do what they really want to do. If this sounds like you, ask yourself — do you really need permission to assume the role of a boss when you’ve already worked hard to get here?

Permission-seeking habits take many forms, but a common one is asking for permission to speak or share an opinion. This often looks like beginning a sentence with phrases like, “Can I just say…” or “Do you mind if I jump in here…”. Unfortunately, chronic permission-seekers are missing out on opportunities by letting others determine their future.

Don’t forget that your thoughts and expertise have value. You don’t need anyone else to tell you it’s okay to share them. 

Again, look at the language you use frequently. Do you often use phrases like “Sorry, but” or “Would it be okay if”? Words affect how we think and behave, so try making more assured statements right from the start instead of asking for permission first. 

Equally important is to examine your intentions. Are you genuinely seeking someone’s opinion, or are you merely wanting them to tell you what you want to hear? We all need guidance at times, but there is a big difference between a sounding board and an echo chamber.

Finally, avoid making suggestions that sound like questions. For example, “What about increasing the budget?” would sound more assertive as “We should increase the budget.” While there are times when using questions like this is appropriate, try to let go of the fear of making bold statements. It will have a more significant impact and highlight your expertise rather than diminishing it. 

Bonus: Use body language to your advantage.

There are countless articles and tips about using body language to your advantage.

Women often use body language that makes them appear smaller. For instance, wrapping your arms around your body will make everyone in the room subconsciously think that you don’t want to be seen or heard. On the other hand, standing tall with your shoulders squared will show people you are ready to be taken seriously.

Head tilts can also come across as submissive. Instead, keeping your head straight up in a neutral position signifies you’re not kowtowing to the person you’re communicating with. 

Furthermore, a firm handshake (in non-COVID times) is also a well-known tool that people use to gauge assertiveness and confidence in business. Face the other person squarely, make sure that you have full contact with their palm, and keep your shake gentle yet secure.

Feeling overwhelmed? That’s okay. You don’t have to make all of these changes in one go. 

Try to upgrade your communication style gradually, focusing on just one thing at a time. Start with one new habit, and make further adjustments as time goes on. Perhaps you can start with the email app, then work on your tone and pitch. Implementing just one change at a time will likely give you better results and help you feel like you’re taking control of how you are being perceived professionally. 

For more useful tricks for improving your communication as a woman leader, join our Facebook group. We don’t want you to miss out on other helpful content that can help you be the boss you were meant to be.