Some people swear they’ll go to the gym and get in shape. Others say they’ll stop eating junk food. For New York businesswomen Tami Reiss, her New Year’s resolution is to improve her word choice before sending emails. And now she’s enabling others to do the same.
To help people, especially women, learn to communicate with confidence, she and a team of like-minded wordsmiths have launched an online initiative called JustNotSorry.com.
The Gmail plug-in and a corresponding Internet pledge have already ignited an onslaught of attention at the start of the New Year, attracting upwards of 27,000 users less than 72 hours of its release.
“We are incredibly overwhelmed by the response,” says Reiss, CEO of Cyrus Innovation, who also serves on the Tech Division Board at the UJA-Federation in New York City. “We knew we were building something that would help people, but we never anticipated how many people would absolutely love what we built.”
The online pledge reads: “In 2016, I will be a more effective communicator. I will not use ‘just’ or ‘sorry’ in emails, which undermine my message. I will talk about what I know, not what I think.”
Similar to spell check, the plug-in automatically underlines words in emails to call attention to phrases that can be quickly adjusted to sound much stronger.
“The first words we chose to highlight were ‘just’ and ‘sorry,’” Reiss says. “When someone uses one of these qualifiers, it minimizes other’s confidence in their ideas.”
Behind #happynewyear and other popular hashtags, #justnotsorry is trending on Twitter.
“Qualifiers hint to the reader that you don’t have faith in what you’re saying,” Reiss says. “The last thing you need is to seem unsure of yourself. We want to make it easy to kick the habit by making it obvious when these qualifiers are holding us back.”
The no-cost Google Chrome extension removes disempowering qualifiers in Gmail via a three-second download. In fact, Reiss insists, this method is not actually about making corrections, but is more about awareness.
“These words have a proper use. We underline them so that you can decide what the right tone is. Sometimes an apology is in order. It’s all about mindfulness and making conscious decisions,” says Reiss.
If users aren’t sure why a particular word or phrase is underlined, the system offers a quick tutorial in more conscious, empowered speech and acknowledges content from several writers.
Author Tara Sophia Mohr considers phrases such as “I just think” and “I actually have a question” as shrinkers.
“You can keep a sense of kindness and diplomacy in your words through your tone, word choice and facial expressions – better options than shrinkers,” Mohr writes on her blog. “Notice how ‘just’ shrinks or qualifies what comes next? Notice how ‘actually’ makes the speaker sound like she’s surprised that she has a question?”
‘You can keep a sense of kindness and diplomacy in your words through your tone’
“Why do we use shrinkers?” Mohr writes. “We unconsciously feel nervous and apologetic about whatever we are getting ready to say, and so we tentatively insert our ideas into the conversation. We are worried that if we don’t have those words, we’ll sound ‘too aggressive’ or ‘harsh’ or not nice.”
Business journalist Lydia Dishman suggests that many commonly used phrases are not only archaic holdovers from the days of snail mail, but also are useless in the world of email. Economist Syliva Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, writes how women need to stop apologizing, especially at work and in leadership positions. And Ian Tang illustrates how expressions of gratitude and a simple “thank you” are more effective than the overused and often self-deprecating sorry.
“Women tend to want to be collaborative and are afraid of coming off as too strong,” Reiss says. “We edit ourselves and end up diminishing instead of strengthening our message.”
The plug-in has not only impacted a large user base, but Reiss as well.
“As the person who’s been using the plug-in the longest,” she says, “I’ve noticed how much more aware I am of when I might type those phrases and have started correcting myself before JustNotSorry can catch me. I’ve also began correcting my speech patterns. I’m a work in progress like everyone else.”