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Do your words diminish You...unconsciously?

22 March 2016

Shari repeated the exact same statement about herself three times during the morning. “I’m not a *developer but ….” By using these words repeatedly, Shari, a senior professional, was (unconsciously) placing herself in an inferior position to the other managers and senior professionals around the strategic planning table. In effect, Shari was downplaying her professional worth and the likely worth of her contributions at the meeting. She was putting herself down by repeatedly using the qualifying clause “I’m not a developer but I….” before she expressed her point: [insert here* engineer, accountant, statistician, senior manager, software developer, etc.]

Shari (in red): "I'm not a software developer but clients will need to have access to the status report."

What was the impact on the rest of the group members when Shari kept repeating the qualifying statement of what she was not? Her choice of language was, in effect, telling her colleagues not to take her too seriously and to discount what she said after the word “but.” Her language spoke that she did not place as high a value on her views, ideas, opinions because she did not have the same qualifications or experience or abilities as the others in the meeting. By repeating “I’m not a [……………] but…” she attempted to play down her value, status and power in the group. 

Make no mistake: 
diminishing words are obstacles that we place in our own path. Perhaps we don’t want things to change for us too quickly and dramatically. We cling to what we currently have because it is what we know; it feels safe and comfortable. In the above example, Shari was (again unconsciously) trying to throw her colleagues off course in the impressions they were forming about her. It is possible that one or two of them saw through her diminishing language and realised they were sitting with someone who was highly intelligent, a strategic thinker and a top-ideas-generator.   

Why might Shari have been trying to play down her own strengths and abilities? Sometimes people get glimpses of their own brilliance and, quite frankly, it scares them! Not only do they not acknowledge their strengths and abilities, they can also cover them up. Fear of failure is common, but we can also fear the confronting possibilities of success.

Let’s look at a couple of self-diminishing words that we may be giving voice to: “only” and “just”


  • “I only work part time….”
  • “I’m only a contractor.”
  • “I’m only able to do ... to get ... to achieve….”


  • “I’m just an AO4 level so….”
  • “I’m just not sure about….”
  • “I’m just not…..technical enough ... senior enough ... experienced enough... et al

In summary, remind yourself to listen - closely and consciously - as you speak. Pay particular attention to how you speak about yourself in various conversations, meetings and other work situations. What language choices are you unconsciously making? Jot these words and statements down. Are any of these choices diminishing your credibility and status in the team? A few additional self-questions:

  • Do I qualify and/or limit my knowledge and expertise before I make a point?
  • Am I using diminishing words and phrases about myself?
  • Do I preface what I say with an apology?

If you would like practical guidance and mentoring on what to say and how to say it confidently and well in senior conversations, meetings and other work contexts, People Results is facilitating The Confidence Factor:  Key Influencing Skills for WomenWorkshop in Melbourne on Tuesday 12th April 2016 and in Sydney on Thursday 14th April 2016.  Please find the course details and registration information for Melbourne and for Sydney.  For further information, any questions or assistance with registration, please do not hesitate to contact People Results 

Telephone 1300 167 981

Lynne Lloyd

Managing Director, People Results

Executive Coaching and Talent Development Programs