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Stop Playing Small at Life and Work 12 Tips for Building Confidence and Personal Power

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

-- By Ginger Ward Green, Coach, Facilitator and Program Developer specializing in Change & Performance Management



1. Stop apologizing unnecessarily.

People often say they are sorry for things over which they have no control, and for circumstances for which they have little or no responsibility. Reserve your apologies for large mistakes that have damaged a relationship or an outcome that is important to you. Be clear and specific about what it is that you are apologizing for, do your best to make amends, make a plan to not make the same mistake again, forgive yourself and let it go.


2. Stop using minimizing and “garbage” words and phrases.

Minimizing and “garbage” words and phrases are often used unconsciously, in an attempt to soften or diminish the impact of what we are saying. For some, not wanting to be perceived as overly aggressive or “pushy” encourages us to use these types of words and phrases to make ourselves “small” enough to not call unwanted attention to what we have to say or contribute.


Examples of minimizing and “garbage” words and phrases include the following. . .

· It’s only my opinion, but. . .

· This is “just” a thought I had. . .

· You’ve probably already thought of this, but. . .

· It really wasn’t anything hard to do. . .

· I was probably just lucky that it turned out as well as it did. . .

· Anybody could have done it (whatever “it” was!)

· Um, you know, like. . . um. . . you know (garbage words, all strung together like Christmas lights)


Talk about this with someone you trust that can be your listening “buddy”. Ask her or him to pay attention to the language that you use in your everyday communication and to give you feedback on how you sound. Ask for the feedback to be private, timely, crisp and specific.

Write down the feedback that you receive. Work to “back-track” and determine what might have triggered you to use these types of minimizing and garbage words and phrases.


Practice speaking without the garbage (substitute silence for those ums, you knows, like. . . )

Practice saying what you have to say by beginning with a phrase like these “starters”. . .

· My idea for addressing this includes. . .

· The data I have on this problem is xxx. . . Taking that into consideration, I suggest that we xxx. . .

· It sounds as though you think the problem is xxx (summarize the other person’s viewpoint that has been expressed and check to see if your listening was accurate. If yes. . . ) I see it differently and this is why. . .

· I believe the best solution for this problem is xxx, and this is why. . .

Video tape yourself giving a presentation (easy enough with an iPad and a tripod). Seeing is believing. And whatever you see and hear, remember that it’s data that you are gathering. When we are working on development areas, it’s progress, not perfection that we are after.


3. Stop giving a long, winding explanation of why you think the way you do

Take the time you need to determine the main point of what you have to say. Back up your main point with two or three supporting pieces of information and communicate this info crisply and without using minimizing and garbage words and phrases. When you are done, stop. You can also ask for others’ input and feedback; do so without negating or diminishing what you have expressed.


4. Stop prefacing what you have to say with a question.

Prefacing what you have to say with a question sounds like this. . . Don’t you think the best way to solve this problem is xxx? That’s a statement masquerading as a question.


The purpose of asking a question is to find out information that we don’t know, including how another person is thinking or feeling. When we have already reached a conclusion or are taking a stand on something, prefacing our conclusion with a question feels to others like it’s a “gotcha”. Sometimes people (particularly women) do this because they’ve been given feedback that they need to not come across so strongly. They’ve been advised to ask more questions so that others believe that their input is wanted and valued. Asking questions really is a good way to learn more about what others think, feel and value. Keep your asking of questions separate from your expression of your own ideas.


5. Stop using “up-speak” – ending your statements as though they are questions.

When we end our statements as though they are questions, it can create a perception to others that we are timid and unsure of ourselves. I lived and worked in Canada for a number of years. Within my first year there, I received feedback that people sometimes felt a bit intimidated by me because of my “directness”. One of the ways I softened what I had to say was by using “up-speak” – culturally, “up-speaking” was part of the Canadian way of communicating for both women and men. Moving back to the U.S., I then had to un-learn this habit. As with using minimizing and garbage words and phrases, have your listening buddy pay attention to whether you are ending your statements as though they are questions. If yes, do your back-tracking to determine what is triggering this speech habit for you, and practice on making your statements as statements, in a clear, crisp and assertive tone of voice.


6. Stop automatically saying “yes” to everything that you are asked to do.

Years ago, I was given advice on this which I took seriously. A colleague told me that if I was not able to say no when I needed to or wanted to, I would never be able to say yes to anything whole-heartedly. That was good advice, and I pass it on to you to consider.


Instead of automatically saying “yes” to everything that you are asked to do, try this instead.

· Pause before answering and take at least three deep breaths

· Negotiate for the time you need and want to check your schedule and assess your ability to do whatever is being asked of you

· Do that! Check your schedule and check in with yourself about what you are thinking and feeling about taking on whatever has been asked of you. When I am in this situation, I ask myself whether I can do what has been asked with a “happy heart”, or whether I’m just afraid to say no (that’s a subject for another time).

· Sort out for yourself what (if anything) is negotiable and what is not. This is called “finding the yes in the no.”