Communication training: How your language might be holding you back

Is your language holding you back at work or in business? Discover what unintended message you may be conveying, and how to communicate more effectively.

In the intricate dance of communication, there exists a delicate balance between being assertive and courteous. For women in business, this balance often leans toward excessive politeness or unintentional self-deprecation, potentially clouding their true potential.

The ways in which language is utilised, both consciously and unconsciously, can significantly affect a woman’s journey to success.

The unintended message

I recently read a really interesting article by communication training skills expert, Frankie Kemp. She painted this picture:

Consider a scenario in which a senior executive turns her back momentarily to address a technical issue during a meeting. She murmurs, “Sorry,” only to be questioned by a colleague who suggests a more apt phrase would be, “Excuse me.” This exchange might appear inconsequential, but it underscores a profound communication trend observed among women. The inclination to apologise when no wrongdoing exists.

Dr. Judith Baxter, a luminary in the realm of Applied Linguistics, delved into this phenomenon. Through meticulous observation of board meetings across prominent FTSE 500 businesses, Dr. Baxter uncovered patterns in the ways women at the zenith of their careers communicated with peers.

The double-voiced discourse trap

Emerging from her research was the concept of ‘double-voiced discourse’ (DvD). This verbal mechanism, often employed by women in male-dominated settings, is characterised by pre-emptive self put-downs, suggesting a tone of uncertainty even when none exists.

Phrases such as, “I realise I’m talking too much, I better shut up,” when a woman has barely spoken, or “At the risk of sounding assertive…” highlight this pattern. The underlying message listeners often decipher from this discourse is one of insecurity, even if the speaker doesn’t feel that way.

Moreover, innocent words like “actually” and “just” can also betray a woman’s intent. The statement, “Actually, I have something to add,” might unintentionally signal surprise that the speaker has something valuable to contribute. Similarly, “I just need to ask…” can inadvertently come across as apologetic.

Unlocking the power of assertive communication

Communication training is pivotal in this context. By recognising these linguistic patterns, women can reframe their language to convey confidence without forgoing politeness. Effective communication training can guide women away from falling into the DvD trap, empowering them to express their ideas assertively and unapologetically.

Extra communication tips

Here are some extra communication tips:

  • Use clear and concise speech: Avoid using filler words such as “um,” “like,” and “you know.” Be direct in your statements to convey confidence.
  • Watch your body language: Maintain good posture, use purposeful gestures, and make appropriate eye contact. Your non-verbal cues often speak louder than words.
  • Ask open-ended questions: Instead of simply nodding or agreeing, engage in conversations by asking questions that prompt detailed responses.
  • Use the feedback loop: After discussing important points, summarise and reiterate to ensure both parties are on the same page.
  • Avoid upspeak: Raising the pitch at the end of a sentence can make statements sound like questions, implying uncertainty. Practice maintaining a consistent tone.
  • Use positive affirmations: Reinforce your self-confidence with internal affirmations, which can help in externalising confidence in communication.
  • Expand your vocabulary: a richer vocabulary can lead to more precise and effective expression of ideas.
  • Cultivate your voice: Practise speaking in a steady, controlled tone. Consider voice coaching if necessary to develop a more assertive and resonant voice.
  • Grow your network: Regularly engage with peers and mentors. Sharing experiences and challenges can provide fresh perspectives on effective communication.

In business, where every word matters, the shift from self-deprecating to self-assured language can be transformative. A woman’s potential is boundless, and with the right communication skills, she can amplify her voice, making it resonate in any boardroom.

The path forward

It’s crucial for women to acknowledge that cultural and professional nuances play a role in how language is perceived. While humility is endearing in many contexts, excessive deference might be misconstrued in certain business settings. With tailored communication training, women can navigate these intricacies, ensuring their words truly represent their capabilities and ideas.

In a world where women continue to break barriers, the ability to communicate with clarity and confidence is a powerful tool. Harnessing this power can catalyse their journey, transforming potential into undeniable success.