As a leadership coach, my priority is to help women leaders build self-awareness. I’ve witnessed the transformation that occurs when I listen to my clients’ concerns and echo their words back to them. I pay special attention to the words they choose in everyday conversation. Language can tell me so much about how they exude confidence or channel insecurities into their relationships. With so many things out of your control, it’s comforting to remember that you have the power to say and write whatever you want. 

When helping clients build confidence, clear patterns emerge in the use of language. It’s no accident that women use words to appease others, to appear agreeable, and to minimize themselves. Decades of socialization have left women with a protective armor in the shape of minimizing language to keep us safe from confrontation and conflict. However, leadership requires us to confront injustice and address conflict. If we are going to stand up for our beliefs and protect the students, families, and faculty, we must exude confidence in our communication. So, let’s build consciousness and find an alternative way to communicate your thoughts and ideas. Start listening for these phrases in your own communication and in the conversations of the women around you. 

Stop saying, “I’d be happy to.” when you’re not actually happy to take on a task. This people-pleasing phrase quite literally tells your colleague or boss that you’re thrilled to take on a task when, in reality, you feel apathetic, obligated, or afraid to decline. Instead, be honest and kind. Try saying, “That sounds like an important task, but it’s outside the scope of my role. Thanks for thinking of me, though.” Or perhaps you are the correct person to complete the task. You can simply say, “I’ve got it.” There is no reason to fake delight in these moments. 

Stop saying, “It was a team effort.” when receiving a compliment about your leadership. It was a team effort, but the praise was directed towards you. Someone had to lead, and your leadership was integral to the team’s success. Instead, say, “Thank you. I’m proud of what my team accomplished.” You can take credit for your leadership and praise the team for their work. When you deflect all the praise towards the group, others wonder if you were truly a part of the success. Compliments can be uncomfortable, so remember, less is more. “Thank you.” is a complete sentence. 

Practice listening to yourselves and other women to build a deeper consciousness of the power of your words. You cannot control how people react to you, but you can control what and how you communicate. When wielded confidently, language is a powerful tool that can elevate your leadership. When mishandled, language can hold us back from achieving our goals. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Don’t leave your message up to interpretation. 

  • Leadership

Rebecca Malotke-Meslin is the founder of Pleasantly Aggressive Coaching & Consulting, where she helps women working in independent schools and non-profit organizations to lead more confidently, authentically, and unapologetically. Rebecca combines a background in social research with 20 years of sales, marketing, communications, and school leadership to create an in-depth and engaging experience for her clients. Through one-on-one coaching, leadership cohorts, and speaking engagements, she delivers enthusiasm and expertise to her audiences. In her role as a consultant, she works with organizations to eliminate barriers, reduce biases, and create more inclusive spaces for all women. Rebecca is also the co-host of the Confidently You: Women in Leadership Podcast.

Learn more from Rebecca this coming February in Atlanta. The SAIS Women’s Leadership Institute supports women in leadership roles and provides opportunities for networking and mentorship, crucial to building strong foundations for independent schools.