Hi, I’m Farrah, and I’m consistently guilty of using “woman in a meeting” language in both the workplace and my personal life. I suffer from the chronic need to please people.
At it’s core, “woman in a meeting” language is intentionally using overenthusiastic sentences and softer words in order to prevent coming off as abrasive. Many women (including myself) constantly apologize, use exclamation points, or preface points they’d like to make with “I think,” or “I just.”
After reading this and recognizing that many strong women throughout history were unapologetically themselves without fear of being called “abrasive” or a “bitch,” I decided I would spend a week trying to eliminate this type of language from the way I speak.
When I started looking for my overuse of soft language… sadly, it wasn’t too hard to find:
For five days, I followed these rules, which eliminated common phrases from my “soft language” vocabulary.
There were tons of challenges that came up during this entire process. My main concern was coming off as a jerk. In some instances, it took me A LOT longer to compose a very direct email than it would have if I was using my bubbly! excited! tone!. And I overanalyzed EVERYTHING.
Scenario 1: Replying to a co-worker in NYC about a project.
I haven’t been to BuzzFeed’s NYC office, so I don’t know any of the staff except those I’ve interacted with over email and Slack — the instant messaging system we use. I was nervous about coming off cold in my email, which is why it took me maybe ten minutes to write on top of reading over it dozens of times. I cringed when I sent it. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t excited about the post anymore.
Despite my worrying, Lincoln really didn’t seem phased by my lack of enthusiastic exclamations. Also, I realized that although I wanted to add in an apology, it wasn’t needed. Why was I apologizing on behalf of my draft? That’s what drafts are FOR.
But the tone in his response showed the same enthusiasm for our project, which meant I was stressing over this one email for NOTHING.
Scenario 2: My boss let me know we were getting lunch today.
My response was a faster-than-normal reply for me, especially since the rules cut off the time I would spend looking for an emoji to send. I saved some time by not worrying about making myself seem happy and upbeat.
BUT her response made me overanalyze my lack of enthusiasm. I always want to come off as a positive team player, and forgoing my excessive use of exclamation marks made my tone seem sarcastic and ungrateful. Was she mad? Did she think I was being ungrateful? Did she think I was being rude or sarcastic? OR A JERK?
She didn’t seem to think so, because the rest of the day carried on as normal. Looking back, it’s a funny how anxious I became over — literally — one exclamation mark.
Scenario 3: Receiving feedback from my editors about a post I was working on.
The way I acknowledge feedback has always been super important to me. In the past, I’ve made sure to be EXTREMELY enthusiastic, using tons! of! exclamation! marks! to prove that I’m not aggressively put off by any changes. I never want my editor to think, is she mad because I’m giving her this feedback? Does she even care?
There were some instances throughout these 5 days where it took me about ten minutes to gather the courage to send people messages.
When I look back at what I wanted to say — and have said on numerous occasions as replies to edits — I’m kind of annoyed with myself. Why do I need to use that many exclamation marks? And smiley faces? Tone is really important when communicating through instant messaging, but what I wanted to say feels like overdoing it. Which means I HAVE overdone it before.
Scenario 4: Asking a co-worker to collab for the first time.
I haven’t collabed with Crystal on a project before, and I DEFINITELY would have added “if you’re not too busy!” to the end of this message on a normal day. But that would have meant I was providing her with an excuse, and my goal was to be more assertive.
It took her a while to reply, which made me think: omg she definitely thinks I’m not excited for this. I should have given her an excuse in case she wanted to let me down easy! But her reply was genuinely enthusiastic. Even if she had been too busy, I shouldn’t have felt the need to provide an excuse.
Scenario 5: Replying to a co-worker’s question.
My conscious attempt to NOT use the exclamation marks made me realize (again) how much I use them on an everyday basis. But I felt like my use of exclamations would have expressed a tone that resembled: oh don’t worry about it, it’s no trouble to get this quick link for you.
Nina was only looking for a link, but I was the one worrying how my tone was coming across through our exchange. In the end, I realized that responding in a direct manner to a forthright question did not automatically make me a jerk.
Scenario 6: Collaborating on a project with my co-workers.
At first I was very self-conscious of not being able to express my enthusiasm in this Slack brainstorm with my co-workers, but it actually ended up getting easier and easier. This interaction happened on the fourth day, and I discovered I was gaining more confidence being assertive.
Forgoing phrases like “I feel like” and “maybe” during brainstorms like this one was a challenge. I wasn’t sure why I needed to soften my tone when I was interjecting an idea. It was a wake up call that made me realize I REALLY needed to cut back on that type of language.
- There are times when being direct comes in handy, and it’s possible for me to be direct without sounding like a jerk.
- Not EVERY reply needs to have an exclamation mark, because that’s annoying, but I like having my voice.
- Look, I like using emojis. Sometimes when words fail, emojis speak. There are some instances were it’s better to forgo them, but I’m not going to completely stop using them.
- I don’t have to be afraid of being assertive about my opinions, especially during edits. Softening my feedback with “maybe” and “I feel like” and “I’m wondering” can come across as if I’m unsure of myself, and I’m not!
- Looking back, all my unnecessary hahas and lols were pretty irritating. I’m going to try and stop that habit. Because, really, nothing is that funny all the time.
- This experiment actually showed me that, overall, I saved a lot of time typing direct responses — time that I probably would have normally spent of second-guessing my ~soft~ sentences and searching for emojis.
- I WILL stop unnecessarily apologizing for things I don’t need to apologize for.
I wish I could say I’m now an assertive badass after my 5-day experiment, but I’m not. I like having my own voice, and when I’m excited about something I want to be able to express that. But this experiment did teach me that I don’t have to be afraid of coming across as rude when, in reality, I’m being direct.