July 30, 2015 Practice Points

"Just" Don't Use It

By Holly Hosford

In her article originally posted on LinkedIn, former Google executive and Apple alum Ellen Petry Leanse discusses the liberal use of the word “just” by women in the workplace.

The article describes “just” as a “permission” word, a “warm-up to a request, and apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking ‘Can I get something I need from you?’” There are some examples of “just” phrases offered in the article, including “I just wanted to check in on . . .” and “If you can just give me an answer, then . . .” According to Leanse, using the word “just” in this permission-seeking fashion puts the user’s conversation partner in a position of authority and control and sends a “subtle message of subordination.”

Leanse first noticed the high concentration of “just” when she joined a company with a high ratio of female to male employees, and had a hunch that women used “just” in the workplace more often than men. To prove her hunch, Leanse performed a test in the real world, asking one guy and one girl to each spend three minutes speaking about their startups to a room full of young entrepreneurs. The audience tallied the times that each speaker said the word “just.” When the female spoke, she used the word “just” five or six times, but the male speaker used “just” only once.

Leanse suggests that we heighten our awareness of the word “just” and try to take the word out of our sentences. As a result, the article claims, we will find clearer, more confident ways of making our ideas known.

Keywords: litigation, woman advocate, law firms, communication

Holly Hosford works at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP in Birmingham, Alabama

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