Business

How Women Sabotage Themselves When They Write

Published: Jan, 31 2017

“You’re going to attend the meeting, right?”

“The food for the event will cost $543.33. I look forward to hearing from you.”

“I’m not sure I agree with you on that point.”

These statements illustrate three ways that women often sabotage themselves when they write. Women are trained to be relationship-focused and not to make waves. Many times, a woman’s way of communicating is the better way to go. But when we are trying to present ourselves as competent and assertive, our feminine habits may sabotage us.  Here are three common self-defeating writing habits, along with ways to overcome them.

Ending with a Tag Question

“You’re going to attend the meeting, right?”

“It’s a good idea, don’t you think?”

Adding a question at the end of a statement diminishes the statement’s impact. Tag questions such as “…right?”, ”aren’t you?”, “…don’t you think?” and others belie a lack of confidence about the statement you are making.

Rather than ending with a question, make a definite statement or request.

“Do you plan to attend the meeting?”

“I think it’s a good idea.”

These are stronger ways of making the statements above.

Resist the urge to tag your statement with a question.

Not Making a Clear Request

“The food for the event will cost $543.33. I look forward to hearing from you.”

“I am available to meet on Tuesday or Thursday morning. Please advise.”

Requests produce action. If you want someone to act, make a request. Women are often afraid to make an overt request, perhaps for fear of seeming bossy or perhaps from fear that the request will be denied. Whatever the reason, making indirect requests reduces our personal power and invites inaction.

Clearly, at times it is not appropriate to make a direct request. If the reader is a senior leader or if you have no leverage, you might have to go the roundabout way. But in general, making a definite request will produce better results.  Instead of writing the above examples, you could write:

“The food for the event will cost $543.33. Please let me know if you approve the purchase.”

“I am available to meet on Tuesday or Thursday morning. Which day is better for you?”

Making a clear request does a great service for your reader: It tells her what you expect from her. Vague requests clog up the organization’s work because people are unsure of what they are supposed to do. So if you have a request to make, just ask.  And remember the old saying, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

Not Stating a Clear Opinion

“I’m not sure I agree with you on that point.”

“I don’t know if that is a good idea.”

If you are uncertain, there’s no shame in projecting uncertainty. And if you are in a political situation in which projecting certainty would harm you, you may have to soft-pedal your statements.

However, if you have a definite opinion and you believe that people would be open to hearing it, do not hide it. Perhaps you are thinking, “People are never open to hearing me disagree.”  Maybe that’s true – but maybe not. Instead of projecting uncertainty, you could write,

“I disagree.”

“I see that point differently.”

“I have a different perspective on that idea.”

“There may be consequences to that idea that we have not thought of.”

Your opinion is valuable; sharing your views may be an important part of your job. Don’t rob your team of your contribution by making mushy statements when you really disagree. Remember: You can disagree without being disagreeable.

All three of these habits stem from a lack of confidence that what we have to say is worthy of our readers’ attention. Confidence may be an inside job, but we can train ourselves to write confidently. Avoid tag questions, make clear requests, and agree or disagree respectfully, but definitely. You will feel better about yourself, and your influence in your organization will grow.

Poor writing means lost money, time, productivity and good will. Elizabeth Danzinger is author of Get to the Point, and a writing coach for Worktalk Communications Consulting which specializes in customized on-site writing training targeted towards organizations.