If you’ve ever composed an email, re-read it countless times, and added in tentative language, littering the message with exclamation points and ending with “no worries if not” – then you might be a woman.
Such is the experience of many women who have been conditioned to use qualifiers as to not sound ‘mean’, or ‘bossy’ when trying to be assertive, meanwhile bossy men are simply referred to as ‘confident’.
In recent times, a kind of feminism has emerged whereby women are being told to eschew all of that and avoid apologising or cater to their recipients. Men wouldn’t say sorry a hundred times a day, right?
The movement of not apologising or using ‘weak language’ took off, as a middle finger to the patriarchy.
However, people are now considering the flip side, why should women contort themselves and change something that may come naturally? Ultimately, it’s just another way to police women’s lives.
And, as recently highlighted on social media, studies show that tentative language doesn’t actually reflect a lack of assertiveness.
Women are often told to avoid using “weak language.”
But 29 studies: talking tentatively doesn't reflect a lack of assertiveness. It's a sign of interpersonal sensitivity.
I might be wrong, but it's probably time to stop confusing confidence with concern for others—isn’t it? pic.twitter.com/z80lm5FQg6
— Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) January 25, 2022
Including hedges, qualifiers/disclaimers, tag questions, intensifiers in speech such as “if that make sense?”, “no worries if not”, “if possible” can actually be a good thing – and shows a sensitivity that may lack in people who don’t use such terms.
Also, “speaking as assertively as a man would” is not always a possible option, particularly for people of colour, such as Black people who are often stereotyped as ‘aggressive’ and ‘loud’. In workplaces where there is a race problem, having a minority person who seems blunt or rude may not look favourable in terms of career prospects.
So, instead of asking women to simply be more rude, people are now urging men to be more sensitive.
In the study, published in Sage Journals, researchers found that women are more likely than men to use tentative speech. But this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The study concluded that: “Women’s greater likelihood of tentative language reflects interpersonal sensitivity rather than a lack of assertiveness.”
Thank you! I choose my words intentionally and when I use "tentative" language it's to signal responsiveness and concern for the other person's thoughts/feelings. Maybe while we encourage women to be more direct we should encourage men to be more sensitive.
— AmyO (@AmyOliverson) January 25, 2022
So, really, using nice, reassuring words can make you seem more sensitive to other people’s needs. And who doesn’t want to work with someone who treats them with respect and consideration?
If you’re someone who finds it more comfortable to use such fillers, then you should go ahead, says author and speaker Dr Marina Adshade, who has researched women, work, sex and love.
She says we should lean into it and instead of policing women for their softer language that takes into consideration other people, we should penalise men for refusing to have concern for others.
She tells HuffPost: “I think the issue here is that as a society we tend to think that the way that men behave is somehow the ideal. And that women should be striving to reach that ideal.”
But the pandemic, which has taken a lot of work exchanges online, relies on effective and considerate communication. So this may benefit women.
Dr Adshade adds: “As the economy becomes more technological the qualities that make someone a productive worker is shifting towards those qualities that women are taught from childhood.
“Qualities like, being a good listener or working cooperatively. Idealising behaviours like refusing to accept help and working competitively rather than cooperatively not only hurts women, it hurts men too. And they are falling behind as a result.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.