How to speak more powerfully at work

How to speak more powerfully at work

Our resident life coach on how to sound more powerful, confident, and professional at work.

BY Margie Warrell, 7 min READ

If you find yourself constantly starting your emails with ‘Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you’ or using the phrase “Correct me if I’m wrong… ”  it’s time to stop. Our resident leadership coach Margie Warrell schools us on how to stop second-guessing yourself and start to speak powerfully at work. Margie writes… 

We are women, hear us roar.

Some days.

Other days, well, you might hear us second-guessing ourselves, talking down our achievements and apologising for our opinion before we’ve even shared it.

Okay, that may be a little harsh, I’m sorry.

Actually, I take that back. I’m not sorry.

Too often we women use what is called ‘out-of-power’ language and engage in patterns of speech that keep us from showing up with our full quota of brilliance, power, and presence.

Like when we apologise for holding a view that others may disagree with or attribute our success to ‘getting lucky.’

Of course, I’m not advocating for arrogance (there’s enough of that circulating already) and I’m fully mindful of the double-bind women can face for speaking with the same assertiveness as men. Yet while being nice, sensitive, agreeable, accommodating, humble and self-deprecating are worthy virtues, if that’s all we ever are, we can sell ourselves short and do ourselves a profound disservice.

The diversity that women bring to any team or group is incredibly valuable. In fact, a study reported in Harvard Business Review found that a business group’s collective IQ went up when women were part of the team. Yet despite the incredible value that we have to bring, we too often second guess that value and hold back from saying the very things that most need to be or using ‘out-of-power’ language for fear that we aren’t as informed or smart or articulate or deserving as we think we should be. Which of course, is rubbish (and far less common in men!)

In The Language of Female Leadership, Dr Judith Baxter reported that women are four times more likely to use ‘out-of-power’ language, including engaging in ‘double-voice discourse.’ Double-voice discourse occurs when we assume that someone will respond negatively to what we have to say and so we qualify our opinion to mitigate the risk. For instance, “Correct me if I’m wrong… ” or “I know I’m not the ultimate expert on this… “ or “It’s just my opinion, but… ”

Sound familiar?

If there’s something you genuinely want to say, chances are there is someone who genuinely needs to hear it. Likewise, just because your opinion may not be one that everyone agrees with doesn’t mean you should apologise for it. Sure, expressing your opinion confidently may not increase your power by four times its current level, but it will almost certainly amplify your ‘personal brand’ as a woman of influence and win you respect that nodding nicely or apologising profusely never will.

As you already know, we need more women seated at decision making tables. Many more. To make that a reality we need to own our value and stop dialling ourselves down to fit in or avoid disapproval. Or worse, being told we’re “too sure” of ourselves! So, enough with prefacing your opinion to mitigate the risk of fall out, saying sorry when you’ve done nothing wrong and underestimating the unique value you have to bring.

Here is a list of examples taken from Stop Playing Safe to help you act, feel and come across more powerful. The first phrase uses language that is qualifying, passive and imprecise and thereby limits your power, presence, and impact on others. The second phrase uses language that is positive, specific and declarative and puts you firmly in command, making someone others want to listen to.

I think I can do that   —————-> I can do that.

I should do that          —————->   I could do that if I wanted to

I’m hopeless at           —————->  I’m learning how to

I will try                       —————->   I will do

I’m nervous                 —————->  I’m excited.

I hope I can              —————->  I’m confident I will or I know I will

It’s really hard           —————->  It’s a great challenge.

Might you be able to do this for me?      —————->  Can you do this for me?

I’m no good at          —————->  I haven’t yet learned how to

There are many ways women need to exercise their power. By changing how you speak, something that is entirely within your power will set off a ripple effect that can lead to all sorts of wonderful new possibilities. So as you move ahead in your day, be a ‘mindful observer’ and pay closer attention to what you are saying, how you are saying it, and any words that are limiting your power to achieve what you want and change what you don’t. Ask the people around you to pay attention too. Notice how, by changing what you say, it shifts the way others respond to you and how you feel yourself.

Your words shape your reality. Speak with power.


Margie Warrell is a Premium member of Business Chicks, her latest book is Make Your Mark: A Guidebook for the Brave Hearted (currently in Kikki K). She is also hosting her Live Brave Women’s Weekend again this May. Business Chicks Premium members can access 15% off. Just enter BizChicks at checkout. Connect with Margie here.

Read more: 

How to smash self-doubt and build self-confidence

9 ways women can grow the confidence to take their seat at the table

The two words you need to stop using to describe your success


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