It’s “Just” a Word

Pamela Jett 12-17

I had a conversation recently with a good friend of mine who is parenting a fantastic 16 year old son.  He is a great kid, a stellar student, a gifted athlete, and well liked by his peers.  He does, however, pressure himself to be a “superstar” at everything and sometimes that self-imposed pressure creates nerves or jitters, especially on the basketball court.

In a well meaning attempt to ease the pressure her son has imposed on himself, my friend tries to remind him that “it is just a game.”  After she shared this with me, I asked her “are you open to some feedback?”  (Unsolicited advice is the worst kind, in my opinion.  So, I wanted her permission or “buy in” before sharing my thoughts.)  Here is the gist of what I shared with her.

The word “just” is a minimizer.  For example, “I’m just an administrative assistant”  sounds weak and self-demeaning.  Whereas “I’m an administrative assistant” sounds confident and capable.  I was concerned that by telling her amazing son that it is “just a game” she would be unwittingly sending a message to him that basketball isn’t very important, ought not to matter, and that she as a parent doesn’t place a lot of value on something that he clearly deems important.  For her son, such a message could be devastating.  She agreed and together we worked to craft a message that would still honor the importance basketball holds for him while not adding pressure to perform or succeed.

It’s “just” a word – right?  It’s just one small word that can completely change the tone of a message. Words matter and the words we choose to use and the words we choose to lose can make all the difference to our career (and our parenting) success.  I challenge you to monitor your use of the word “just.”  Use it sparingly.  Use it wisely.  Consider if using “just” adds to your credibility or detracts from it.  Ask yourself if using “just” might send a belitting or demeaning mesage (albeit unitention as in the case of my friend.)  Using “just” is a habit we can break.

If you have situations where you have found “just” to be a minimizer, please share them with me.  Post a comment, subscribe to this blog, and share with your friends and colleagues.


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