This article was updated on August 25, 2021.
We all want to be treated with respect – whether that’s at work, or in our personal lives. As someone who works with words for a living, I’ve learned that using certain words and phrases over others on paper can have an effect on not only how an article reads, but how a reader responds to the information being presented. Which is how I tricked you all into clicking on this headline.
But all joking aside, using the right words in person is a lot harder to do than when you have time to be thoughtful and put words down on a page.
I’d noticed that in getting friends, team members and even family on board for certain projects and favors, well, I’d been having a hard time.
So, I did some digging, and started to flip how I’d ask people to join in on brainstorms, plans and projects to see if my requests would be met with more respect.
Whether it’s in the form of a follow up, expressing an opinion or even placing a to-go order, I realized I was overusing a word that needed to be replaced.
“Just checking in.” “Just following up.” “I just wanted to see.” “I just want it black, no milk or sugar.”
I had started to pay attention to how I was treated in return when starting my sentence with “just,” and had noticed it shifted the mood. I felt like I was being perceived as needy and not capable.
To put more agency and authority behind these sentences, I started with “I.” “I’m checking in.” I wanted to see.” “I want it black, no milk or sugar.” Here’s how it worked.
At the start of the week, I’d asked for an update on a proposal that had been submitted last week. By mid-week I still hadn’t heard back – but instead of “just” checking in, “I” checked in.
The difference was immediately noticeable. Usually “just checking in” earns me a short email back – like “working on it” “will have it soon.”
Instead, I started off a status call asking, “I wanted to see if there were any updates regarding our pitch last week.”
“Thanks for following up – we haven’t heard back, but I’ve checked in to see when we can expect a response.”
Rarely, if ever did my “just checking in” receive any kind of thank you. Things were already looking up.
I’ve been spending more time at my parent’s house with my siblings. As the oldest, I have a reputation of being “bossy,” and because of this a lot of my requests end up getting an eye roll.
My brother is the designated IT guy in our family – and I had been bugging him about finding the chord to an old Game Boy so that we could play it together for old time’s sake.
When I told him, “I wanted to see if you found the cable yet,” instead of an excuse, he told me he’d go find it now. And, he did! This new addition was even getting me better results at home.
At the coffee shop
I have a local coffee shop across from my apartment that I try to support weekly. Every time I go in here, I feel like I’m being a bother by placing an order. But now that I was using “I” instead of “just,” it was time to change that.
“I’d like the pumpkin spice latte without the whipped cream please,” I told the barista. Normally, that sentence would have started with “just.”
Maybe this one was in my head, but the service felt more prompt, and my order left less room for questions from the barista since I had started it out more affirmatively.
If you’re someone who has been relying on a filler word like “just” to soften your asks, I highly recommend seeing what happens when you purposely replace “just” with “I.” It makes interactions run more smoothly, and you’ll feel more respected as a result.