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 may have valuable information but 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 . . .” Whatever the comment, suggestion, idea articulated, the message delivered is don’t give me another thought. And they don’t!
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.” 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.