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Karen Edwards Blogger

Speaking with Authority

Posted by Karen Edwards | July 27, 2015

​Welcome to the July edition of the OWLI blog! The summer is flying by and the Össur Women's Leadership Initiative is moving right along with it. On July 10 we had a fantastic webinar featuring Elizabeth Loverso of Red Storm Entertainment. If you missed it and would like a recorded copy of the webinar, please email your request to OWLI@Ö Additionally on July 16 we held a fantastic round table discussion with OWLI members in Chicago, IL. We have other events in the works, including our Össur Women's Leadership Conference which will be held April 28-30, 2016 in Orlando, Fl. at Össur's Orlando campus! Be sure to check out the "Mark Your Calendar" section at the end of this blog for dates of all the upcoming events.

This month's blog focuses on communication. More specifically, on how our word choices and the tone of our voice affects how seriously both we and our ideas are perceived. There are many articles, blogs, and books out today describing things we should and shouldn't say. This hit home for me last month when one of our OWLI members, Brittany Stresing, posted a link on our Facebook Page to an article by Ellen Petry Leanse entitled, "Google and Apple Alum Says Using This One Word Can Damage Your Credibility,". In her article, Leanse discusses her discovery that women use the word "just" far more frequently than men and that one word weakens not only the statement, but also the way the person speaking is perceived. Uncannily, the post went up about an hour after I had written several emails to customers stating that, "I just wanted to see if you had any orders to place before the end of the month." In the following weeks as I made a conscious effort to eliminate this word from my emails and text messages, I realized how often I actually used that word and how much more powerful my messages became without it. As women in a profession that is still more male dominant than female, we as women need to evaluate our speech and make sure we are communicating with our colleagues and patients in a way that will be heard as confident, equal, and powerful. Here are some ways we can do that.

Stop saying JUST.

Little girls learn early in life that making demands is not well received by our playmates, mostly other little girls. And we have adapted our approaches to make our requests gentle and more polite. Boys on the other hand, learn that the dominant member of their play group or the coach of their team is the boss and is the one with the power, and the one with the power issues demands; hence, boys are comfortable being very direct in asking for something. As women we have learned that using the word "just" softens a request and shows you are not trying to be demanding. As Leanse wrote, "It (is) a 'permission' word, in a way — a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking 'Can I get something I need from you?'" It inherently implies you do not have the right to ask for whatever it is you want. Eliminate this word and make requests and statements in a direct way. For example, if I had written to my customers and said, "Do you have any orders to place before the end of the month," I would most likely have been perceived as more confident and more professional, especially by male customers who are used to being asked in this way.

Stop saying SORRY.

Again, girls are hard-wired to work together and keep the peace among their friends. Offending a friend results in a girl being ostracized from her group (did any of your friends growing up threaten to "not be your friend anymore?"). Alternatively, boys are raised to battle it out on the ball field or playground and there is no reason to say sorry for trying to win. Sorry isn't a word in the male vocabulary except when a serious transgression has occurred. As Jessica Bennett wrote in her article "I'm Sorry, But Women Really Need to Stop Apologizing,", "…the modern-day apology — at least when it comes to women at work — is rarely an apology at all. We're not sorry to be asking a question, we're simply trying to be polite. We're trying to make a statement, a direct one, without being deemed 'bossy' or 'too aggressive.' Sorry is simply another way of downplaying our power, of softening what we do, to seem nice… And yet, how can we be deemed likable and competent if we're always sounding defensive or unsure?" As women in a professional environment, we want to be respected and treated as equals to our professional peers. We certainly want to respect our superiors, but we don't want to act or be perceived as submissive to our equals. Therefore, we need to speak confidently and limit our use of "sorry" to those times where there is really something to be sorry about.

Eliminate UPSPEAK.

We've all been guilty from time to time of stating something we are not confident about (or not confident our listener will believe) by using what has been termed "Upspeak." This is when we end a statement with a higher pitch than the beginning so the statement sounds like a question (think "Valley Girl"). The implied uncertainty of this speech prevents us from sounding credible or authoritative. Confident speakers make statements, not questions, and their sentences end on a down beat. As voice expert Harry Key stated, "'Speaking in definite or indefinite tones doesn't just sound different, it feels different and will affect the way the speaker is perceived. The message is clear – if you know what you're talking about and want to be respected for it, you need to sound like you know it." 

To work on this, try using the following exercise:  hold your arm straight out in front of you. Say a statement out loud and lower the inflexion of your voice and your arm simultaneously at the end of the statement. Did your statement sound more confident? This is a great way to train yourself to start changing how you speak, especially when making a presentation or practicing to ask your boss for raise.

Eliminate Filler Words.

In our everyday speech, women use "filler words" such as "like," "y'know," "I mean," "um/uh," "okay, so," "actually/basically," twice as often as men do. These words draw out and delay the point of what we are trying to say and convey nervousness and lack of confidence in what we are saying. Sylwia Dziedzic, in her article "6 Filler Words That, Like, Won't Get You Hired, Y'know", suggests slowing down, taking a breath and replacing filler words with more powerful transition words such as "first," "next," "lastly," and "and."

Saying all of this also raises the question, "Do women have to act and talk like men to succeed in a male dominated profession?" The answer is absolutely not. Women have natural strengths and approaches that add tremendous value to the O&P profession. Men and women in every facet of business have to learn to adapt their communication skills to the people with whom they are working. In fact, women are especially skilled at this and can readily adapt to different personalities and non-verbal cues. It is important that we all recognize how our speech affects the way we are perceived. Does your listener/coworker/boss/patient perceive you as a confident, knowledgeable leader or a subordinate, unsure follower? Our goal is to be successful in our career and to advance into leadership positions of all levels. Making sure we are communicating as a leader is imperative to this goal.

JUNE WINNERS:  Congratulations to the following OWLI members who were the first three to nominate leaders in O&P to be highlighted in our blog and each received a $10 Starbucks gift card: Elicha Roberts, Theresa Field and Brittany Stresing. Thanks for your suggestions, ladies! Keep the ideas coming!

Thanks to the O&P women in Chicago who attended an OWLI round-table discussion on July 16. We had a tremendous turnout and the discussion was very enlightening. Thanks to their feedback we will begin a new feature of the OWLI Initiative, the OWLI Book Club which we will kick off next month! If you are interested in having an OWLI event in your area, please send us an email and let us know!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:  Reserve a spot on your schedule for the following upcoming OWLI events…

Sept. 18:  OWLI Webinar, 2-3pm EDT:  Marje Albohm, Clinical Research and Fellowship Director, Össur Americas (title TBA)

Oct. 16:  OWLI Book Club Discussion Webinar, 1-2pm EDT

Nov:  20:  OWLI Webinar, 12-1pm EDT:  Selena Rezvani, "The Art of the Ask: Negotiating with Confidence." Selena is the author of "Pushback: How Smart Women Ask and Stand Up For What They Want." 

April 28-30, 2016:  Össur Women's Leadership Initiative Conference, Orlando, FL. More details to come on this event and how to register!

Be sure to join our Facebook page (search for Ossur Women's Leadership Initiative) and follow us on Twitter @OWLIOssur. Thanks for being a part of OWLI and continue to submit ideas and suggestions as to how we can help you develop as a leader via email, Facebook or Twitter!

Until August,
Karen Edwards
Director, Össur Women's Leadership Initiative

OWLI Quote of the Month "I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody's passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn't mind leading." – Amy Poehler

Talk to us!! Your feedback is welcomed and encouraged! Please let us know what you think of our initiative, share your ideas, share your victories, or just say "hi" by emailing us at OWLI@Ö And follow us on Twitter @OWLIÖssur and Facebook at Össur Women's Leadership Initiative page.