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Stop Making Yourself Small

Want to get smaller? Maybe around the waist but not necessarily in the conference room, a vital conversation, or your next presentation. Those are places we want to be remembered as valuable contributors.

When the neighbors cat wants to avoid being chased up a tree by the dog lopping down the street, she makes herself small — crouching down in the grass as if to say, “Don’t mind me. I’m of no significance — no threat. Don’t give me another thought.” When we make ourselves small, we are delivering the same message both to ourselves and the people in the room. The crazy thing is both will accept and believe the message. If we find ourselves complaining about feeling invisible or unheard, chances are we are making ourselves small. We can have valuable information and use language that devalues our message.


A few ways language creates the message we are not verbalizing and yet everyone is hearing:

Starting with an Apology

Starting a conversation or presentation by apologizing when there is nothing to apologize for sends the message that we are unsure. Often times when we want to jump into a conversation or take center stage, we start with, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to say. . .” What are we sorry for exactly? Speaking up? Communicating insecurity and uncertainty, even subtly, translates this is not important — there is no need to listen. And so they don’t!

Using Tiny Words

Tiny words like just, only, quickly, little, small mimic the stance of the neighbor’s cat. “I just have this little comment.” “ I have a tiny suggestion.” “Let me quickly mention . . .” This language makes us small. Whatever the comment, suggestion, idea articulated, the message delivered is don’t give me another thought. And they don’t!

Including Disclaimers

I have a friend who likes to tell jokes. He always starts with a disclaimer. When you have to start with a disclaimer, the joke is likely not going to hit the mark. This would be the case for my friend EVERY TIME. His disclaimer is usually, “I’m not a sexist.” Oh boy! Immediately, before I even hear the joke, I think, “Wow! He is a sexist!” Then when I hear the joke, the message is reinforced. When we use disclaimers, it’s like announcing, “Disregard everything I am about to say.” Disclaimers sound like, “I’m not sure if this is important.” “You’ve probably already thought of this.” “I don’t know if this is what you were thinking.” As soon as the disclaimer is out of your mouth and before you make your valuable comment, articulate your brilliant idea or deliver a stellar suggestion, everyone in ear shot has decided to disregard what you are about to say. And so they do!

While the world you live in might be encouraging you to work on a smaller waistline, I’m challenging you to get larger. Eliminate the language that makes you small and start showing up in a way that you are heard and seen. The world needs your input. Stop telling us not to listen to you.

Misunderstood? No Way!

Everyone does life from a little different perspective.  Just like we all have unique fingerprints or hair follicles, we all see things from our unique vantage point.  As a result, we communicate with each other from our perspective.  It seems so clear and obvious to us when we say it.  It’s unbelievably surprising when we realize that someone has misunderstood us.  In fact, we are so deeply entrenched in our perspective that it is difficult to even uncover that someone else has misunderstood us.  

I found myself consistently angry with a boss I had for a couple of years until I realized that I misunderstood him.  I finally wrote myself a note in big red letters, “If it doesn’t sound like a good plan, if you feel angry about it, you have misunderstood him.”  I went into every staff meeting with this note in front of me, so that I would not react to whatever he had communicated.  His perspective was different than mine and I was having trouble seeing things from his perspective.  


When we understand other people’s perspective, we are better equipped to communicate well with them.  I have a friend who is detail-oriented, logical, reserved and has a high need to be accurate. (By the way, she’s a bookkeeper.  That style of hers is a perfect match for keeping the spreadsheets organized.)  Her biggest fear is being wrong.  Disorganization stresses her out in a big way.  When she is dealing with someone who is enthusiastic, talkative, all about people — not the task, she cannot expect facts and she needs to find a way to be encouraging.  No one perspective is better than the other, they’re just different.  When an outspoken, competitive, quick action, strong-willed boss, who needs control and fears being taken advantage of communicates to a friendly, sympathetic, agreeable, considerate, listening employee, what could go wrong?  Right?  The more we can understand those four different styles I just described, the more communication will flow with ease.  

As we begin to think about the other person’s perspective, their fears, their needs, the things that stress them, we will have the insight we need to communicate in a way that makes sense to them.  If you’d like more help with this, contact me at

What's the Story?

His company restructured.  His job duties stayed the same.  His salary didn’t change.  He started reporting to a different person and one of the people who reported to him started reporting to someone else.  That was how the re-structure impacted him.  He was embarrassed.  He felt demoted.  He wasn’t sure if he could stay anymore.  

What just happened here?  Anybody have an idea?  He saw something that wasn’t there.  He misunderstood the purpose of the restructuring.  In his mind, it became a commentary on his ability rather than a shift to a more efficient design.  

How many times have we “seen” something that isn’t really there?  First, there is an incident.  (The corporate restructure is announced or your mother-in-law . . . )  Next comes an emotion.  (My reaction to the corporate restructure or my mil).  My behavior follows my emotion. (I storm into the bosses office and huff and puff or yell at mil).  There is one huge and important piece of the formula that is left out.  

Incident -> Emotion -> Behavior is not the entire story!

In a nano second between the incident and the emotion, I’ve told myself a story.  The employee told himself that the leadership didn’t think he was good enough.  Or you told yourself your mother-in-law was out to get you. It happens in a flash and it doesn’t have to be the truth.  It’s just the story we tell ourselves and, for the most part, we operate unaware of the story. 

Think about a time your behavior came from an emotional place.  What was the story you told yourself?  My spouse doesn’t love me.  My child hates me.  My boss thinks I’m stupid.  The clerk thinks I don’t know what I’m doing.  The neighbor just doesn’t care about us.  What’s the story?

It seems preposterous but we react to some story we made up in our mind.  When emotions run high, it’s our responsibility to uncover the story we’re telling ourselves.  New York Times bestselling author and law firm founder, Bob Goff has a great way to fight this tendency in his life.  He chooses to go with the best possible explanation.  What is the best possible explanation for this?  Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?  That changes the story immediately which impacts the emotion resulting in a different outcome.



Why do people do what they do?  Why do they say what they say?