How qualifiers undermine your message

By Saira Ansari | Blog

Aug 30
What is a qualifier? According to Collins dictionary, a qualifier is a statement containing extra detail or explanation (which makes a prior statement less strong or less general). Lets elaborate

I had a manager once give me an example of how women use qualifiers more often than men and how much of a negative impact they have on women’s progression and career. In all honesty, my first reaction was defensive: I thought “I’m sure it’s not JUST a women’s issue, men must do it all the time too”.  I then started actively observing and found that while both men and women around me were using qualifiers, women were indeed using qualifiers a lot more than men were. This observation was further validated by mentions in some management books I came across, and lastly Google – A simple Google search “do women use qualifiers more than men” results in several articles about how women undermine themselves with words, and how women are more likely than men to use tentative speech forms, such as qualifiers.

What are some examples of qualifiers?

  • “just” (just wanted to drop you a line, just FYI, just thought I’d let you know)
  • “Not sure if this is what you’re talking about, but I think..”
  • “This might be a silly question, but I wanted to know if..”

Why are they a bad thing?

  • They minimise your importance – why do you have to justify asking a question? Ask it; Why is it “just” FYI, keep it at FYI. Your message is important and qualifiers minimise that importance
  • They attempt to damage your credibility – why is your question silly? Even if you are unsure about something, you are asking a question to get clarity, you don’t need to yell to the room that you think your question is silly. Be confident and ask away!

Tips to practise:

A quick way to practise is to identify the qualifier you most frequently use (for me, the one I most frequently used was “just”) and then make an active effort to ensure that your emails and other written forms of communication don’t include that qualifier. For example, after you have written an email, do a quick scan to see if you have unnecessarily used qualifiers and rephrase! As we often type or write how we speak, re-reading, re-checking and re-writing our written communication will help avoid using the qualifier when we speak as well.

To make things a bit more tech savvy, there is also a Google Chrome App called Just not Sorry that helps you identify qualifiers by underlining them so you can spot them, similar to how spelling mistakes get highlighted. To clarify, I am not suggesting we stop saying thank you or abruptly interject conversations by being rude, “just” that we simply are mindful of words that undermine our message 🙂

Bottom line: 

How you say something is as important as what you say, so avoid qualifiers – in both verbal and written communication. Good luck!