09/23/2013 09:35 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2013

3 Communication Mistakes Women Make


Maybe you feel like I do: even if you've been working through the summer, September is all about getting back to your "doer," worker-bee self. In that spirit, today, I want to talk about a super-easy way you can play bigger in your career this year: Your words.

Our words are our opportunity to influence others and have impact. Thanks to technology, that opportunity is bigger than ever before, with emails and social media amplifying the messages we type and send off into the world.

But we often do these "little" things that undermine our words -- "little" mistakes with big impact:

1. Rushing. Pauses! Pauses are so important. Breathing for a little micro-pause between your sentences conveys a sense of confidence and authority. Speaking at a slightly slower pace does the same.

Why do we rush? We rush because we are trying to avoid being interrupted. We rush because we unconsciously feel apologetic about "taking up space." To the listener, we just sound nervous and like we don't think what we are saying is worth much time.

What to do instead: Slow down and get in the habit of allowing micro-pauses between your sentences.

2. "Shrinkers" that lessen the power of what you have to say: words like "just" and "actually."

"I just think..."

"I actually have a question..."

Notice how "just" shrinks or qualifies what comes next? Notice how "actually" makes the speaker sound like she's surprised that she has a question?"

Why do we use shrinkers? We unconsciously feel nervous and apologetic about whatever we are getting ready to say (because most women got the message we should people-please and acquiesce), and so we tentatively insert our ideas into the conversation. We are worried that if we don't have those words, we'll sound "too aggressive" or "harsh."

What to do instead: Remove those words and your statements sound much stronger. You can keep a sense of kindness and diplomacy in your words through your tone, word choice and facial expressions - better options than shrinkers.

3. "Did That Make Sense?" This one drives me crazy! (I do it, too.) Isn't the world giving women enough messages that they don't make sense? Do we really have to reinforce that to ourselves?

Here's how this one works: You share a paragraph of ideas or questions or feelings and then say, "Did that make sense?" In an intimate personal conversation, that's one thing, but in a professional context, this makes us sound like we think we weren't clear, like we think our ideas might be nonsensical and confused. Not a good foundation for influencing the listeners.

Why do we do this? We protect ourselves from being told, "that made no sense," by suggesting that maybe we were incoherent. We pre-empt criticism from others. Or, we say it because we are attempting to make what I call a "bid for connection" with our audience: we want to invite conversation, and it feels like this question is an easy way to do that.

What to do instead: In a professional context, reconnect with your listener through eye contact and a closing line like, "I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this." That's a bid for connection that doesn't simultaneously undermine you. It is the listeners' job to ask questions if something didn't make sense to them -- not your job to double-check if you "made sense."

Those are three of many "little" things women do in their speech that undermine them. When I teach women about these little things there are lots of lightbulb moments. Women begin to change how they communicate, and then see the big results of those changes in their careers.

What unhelpful little speech patterns do you notice in yourself and other women? Tell us in the comments!

Tara Sophia Mohr is an expert of women's leadership and women's wellbeing. She is the creator of the Playing Big global leadership program for women and the author of the forthcoming book Playing Big (Penguin). You can get her free guide, the 10 Rules for Brilliant Women Workbook - here.