I have a handful of four-letter words that I should focus on eliminating from my vocabulary but for the purpose of this blog, I will focus on just one of those. The word “just” can be used to describe the timing of recent event such as “I just won a million dollars,” or “I just ate the best tacos.” When I was a teenager, I used the word to minimize situations to my parents. “Come on mom, it’s just the movies with a boy,” “It’s just a 3-hour drive to a concert,” or “It’s just a nose piercing.” My goal was to make the situation seem small and to soften the idea in hopes of achieving the result I wanted.

While the word “just” still lives in my vocabulary as an adult, I am becoming more aware of a new context I am using it in and the message it conveys. When used as a qualifier in a sentence, the weight behind your words declines, and the level of self-depreciation is amplified. This small word can minimize the importance of a task while also undervaluing you and the accomplishment you’re after. It can also undervalue others.

When you become aware of how and where you use the word “just” and take the steps to eliminate it from conversations, you will be perceived as a stronger, more confident leader. You will demonstrate ownership and others will trust the importance of your words.

Some recent examples where I used “just” include:

  • Just wondering if you had the opportunity to review…”
  • Just wanted to see if you had minute to look at something with me”
  • “That’s just my opinion”
  • “I’m just an admin…”
  • “I’m just a little overwhelmed”

In each of these situations, I made my intentions or feelings smaller with the word, minimized the issue at hand, and, in some instances, came off as self-depreciating.

Below are alternatives phrases that would have the opposite effect, would give the impression of confidence and assertiveness, without being aggressive or overbearing. 

  • “When can I expect your review?”
  • “Do you have a moment to look at something with me?”
  • “My recommendation is…”
  • “I am part of our administrative TEAM”
  • “I would love your help with prioritizing my tasks”

As a leader you may inadvertently be minimizing the contributions of others by using “just” when making a request.

  • “Send that over to Sarah, that’s just an administrative task”
  • “Will you complete XYZ, it’ll just take an hour

Aim to empower your staff and increase their confidence by instead using phrases like:

  • “Send that over to Sarah, it’s a more administrative task”
  • “Do you have capacity for a task that will take about an hour?”

For many, using the word “just” has become a habit they are entirely unaware of. I challenge you to become more intentional about when and how you use this word. My guess is you’ll be surprised at how often you use it and the undertone it creates in your conversations. For the next week, re-read your communications and look for that word before hitting send! Let us know if you find you’re guilty of “just”-ing your team!