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I ‘just’ wanted to ask… I was ‘just’ thinking that…

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18 Aug 2016
The word ‘just’ has many definitions and can be used in a variety of contexts. Around a year ago I remember reading an article from Ellen Petry Leanse a former Google employee about the use of such word in the workplace and how it is contextually used as a subordinate. The article stated that in certain workplace contexts, the use of this word was a subtle message of deference.

The more you pay attention to what is being said around you, the more that you realisze how much we use the word ‘just’.  In certain contexts the tone of deference makes complete sense. If I were to say to a colleague, “I ‘just’ wanted to add X to this conversation”, I am preceding what I am about to say with the inference that it isn’t important, I am almost apologiszing in advance for what I want to say. If I were to say “‘I just want to suggest a different approach”’ that is inferentially different to “‘I want to suggest a different approach”’. The latter implies that I have a valid approach that should be considered, whilst the former holds less grounding – in my opinion. Those with more confidence and who have more say in a team use the word ‘just’ a lot less than those who are newer, or less confident within the group of people.

According to Ellen, the biggest bug bear is using the word in emails, which in our heads may sound polite but is actually coming across as unconfident and apologetic. I think the context can be broadened. I specifically try not to use the big dreaded word within internal communication such as meetings and discussions in the workplace, but also in external communication such as emails and calls to candidates.  I have personally noticed how much more respect I now get since I removed this word from my vocabulary – at least the times where I remember to consciously not say it. Not using this word helps to portray confidence, which is key and allows you to at least appear that you know what you are talking about.

That does not mean to say that we need to write off this word all together. There are several contexts in which language is used to minimize the impact of what we are saying, another example being ‘Can I...’ or even worse ‘can I just…’ – yet usually these are used to be polite. As a linguistic tool it is also very useful to persuade somebody to help you, and in this context mitigating can be a benefit. Yet using such within the workplace, when you’re trying to build up brand ‘you’, and to establish a career, it may not be the best choice of words.

It’s just worth thinking about when you use this word – or maybe it is worth thinking about.
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