"Just" Stop

by Lacey Cencula

A couple of years ago, I read this article. I can honestly say I have changed the way I write and speak because of it.

Google and Apple alumna Ellen Leanse wrote about how she noticed women used the word “just” in the professional world more often than men did. And as I read this, I too realized this was true, even in the context of school.

  • When you write in your group project GroupMe: “Did you finish your part of the presentation? Just wondering!”
  • When you email your coworker: “I’m just checking to see if you have that spreadsheet I asked for last week!”
  • When you suggest an idea in a meeting: “Just a thought, but...”

As Leanse writes, it’s a “permission word.” She calls it “a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting.” It’s a word women use to lessen the amount of aggression in their request, to come off as “so totally chill” in their message.


This word adds no strength to your message; in fact, it adds uncertainty and discredibility. It makes your own writing and voice work against you. Removing “just” from a phrase actually enhances the clarity of your statement.

  • “Did you finish your part of the presentation? Just wondering! If it’s someone’s job to finish a portion of the project, it’s not illegal to ask. Don’t apologize.
  • When you email your coworker “I’m just checking to see if you have that spreadsheet I asked for last week.” You already asked them for this. Following up on something you need is doing your job, and doing it well. Don’t apologize.
  • When you suggest an idea in a group meeting “Just a thought, but ...” Don’t discredit your own idea before you even say it. Say your idea. If it sucks, who cares? We’ll all move on. If it’s good, congrats! You just came up with a winning idea because you rock.

A lot of women voice the concern of not wanting to come off as rude when they speak. Leanse writes, “I am all about respectful communication. Yet I began to notice that “just” wasn't about being polite: It was a subtle message of subordination, of deference.”

Right again. It’s not impolite to ask a question, suggest an idea, or do your job. But it is impolite to yourself to automatically detract from your own power by using a permission word to prime your thoughts! Look in the suggestions above where “just” is striked out. They do not sound rude; they sound clear, concise, and strong.

Women already have to work harder to earn the same respect from superiors, colleagues, and subordinates that is given to male leaders; don’t do yourself an injustice by detracting from your own voice.

So next time you send that email or stop by a coworker/professor’s office, do yourself a favor and strike that j-word from your vocabulary. Just a suggestion!

Lacey CenculaLacey Cencula