Here's a Silly Thought!

by Lacey Cencula

This may be a stupid article, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway!

Does that opening statement give off a vibe of confidence? Does it scream “This woman knows what’s up!” Does it make you want to read or listen to my ideas at all?

The correct answer we’re looking for is: “No, it sucks!”

A few months ago, I wrote how women use unnecessary qualifiers in their speech in an attempt to come off as less aggressive, threatening, or “bitchy.” What’s resulted has been women habitually using unclear, and even submissive, wording that automatically detracts from their ideas before they even fully say them. A habit I have noticed is women priming their thoughts with the guise of stupidity.

  • When you raise your hand in class: “This may be a stupid question, but how did you get that answer?”

  • When you speak up at a work meeting: “I’m no expert, but what if we…”

I see this so often in both the workplace and academic settings, and it is maddening. I want to YELL at the offender “Start that question over and don’t phrase it like you’re an incompetent fool.” Look, I’m not mad...I’m just pissed.

When you start your phrasing off with that qualifier, you’re taking away from your own voice. You’re telling the entire room that you’re not confident enough to state what’s on your mind without attaching a disclaimer to it.

The thing is, it’s pretty much never stupid. Every “This may be a stupid question” is followed up with a perfectly reasonable question. Each “I’m no expert” comes with an idea that is viable and beneficial.

So why are women doing this? (And it is only women; you won’t hear this coming from men.)

It’s because many women lack the confidence to speak up. This isn’t shocking; it’s been engrained into us all our lives that our opinions, questions, and thoughts are inferior to men’s.  They need that qualifier attached to shield themselves from any perceived risk of fall-out. It’s a language security blanket, acting as a “Hey if this is stupid, I warned ya!” However, the result is that a woman’s language comes off as unclear, vague, and unconvincing. Simply put: it ain’t doing you any favors.

  • When you raise your hand in class: “This may be a stupid question, but How did you get that answer?”

  • When you speak up at a work meeting: “I’m no expert, but What if we…”

Is it even necessary to point out how much better that is? Your point stays exactly the same, but doesn’t come with the “Oh silly me, I’m such a dingus! Please have mercy on my simple mind!” connotation.

Even if a question is simple, or an idea is ultimately declined, why present it in such a dejected way? Present it with confidence; speak up with poise. In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality. This gap comes from confidence.

To quote a very wise woman (it’s me, I wrote this in my “Just Stop” article): 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.

Recognize this speech pattern and immediately subtract it from your vocabulary. That may be a stupid idea though; I’m no expert!

Lacey Cencula