Why you should cut “just” out of your emails
At the office on Friday afternoons, we take stock of the week that was and have a short skills share. Each person in the team takes a turn to talk about a specific topic that the whole company can benefit from. We’ve had a wide range of discussions, from Google’s biases to Mailchimp’s amazing lesser-known features. My topic was the word “just” and why we should cut it out of our work emails.
Have you noticed how often you use the word “just” in a professional context, particularly emails? I’ve been thinking about why I use it so much in tricky situations and if it’s something that women use more than men.
I often find myself using it when I feel like I’m being annoying to a client (while I’m trying to do my job), for example, “I just wanted to check in with you about…” or “I’m just following up on…” It makes the sentence feel like a smaller inconvenience, like what I’m really saying is, “I’m sliding this tiny little thing it into your stack of to-dos but it’s not a big deal,” while batting my eyelashes.
Using “just” helps to make me feel like I’m less of a nuisance. But I’m doing my job, so why should I need to feel like this? While it might seem like “just” smooths the path for requests, it also makes us appear small; it diminishes respect for our work and ourselves. Why shouldn’t we take up as much space in someone’s to-do list as anything else?
Compare the same phrases without “just”: “I’d like to check in with you about…” and “I’m following up on…”. Do you hear how much clearer and direct the requests are? It’s as if you’ve sat up straight while asking. That’s what a professional relationship should be.
Ellen Leanse, a former Google executive, wrote a 2015 LinkedIn blog about the word “just”, explaining that she noticed women (including herself) using it way more than men, and how she tackled it in her office. She began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite, “it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”
Try this experiment, which we also did in our team. Search or read through your emails for the next couple of days and count the number of times “just” appears. Notice why you used it and how it changes the tone when you remove it. We were astounded by how often we use it and have committed to clarity and confidence by removing it.