Just how sorry are you in your emails? To get what we want, we may pad our emailed requests with softening qualifiers like “So sorry!” and “Just,” even when we are not sorry at all. One Gmail plugin wants us to cut this behavior out and stop apologizing for everything we do at work.
Created by Tami Reiss, Steve Brudz, Manish Kakwani, and Eric Tillberg of software consultancy group Def Method, the Just Not Sorry plugin seeks to “stop qualifying our message and diminishing our voice” by pointing out our use of “sorry” in emails, so that we edit ourselves from using them.
Qualifiers like ‘just’ can weaken your point
Once you download the Chrome extension, the plugin underlines anytime you write a problematic qualifier like “just,” “sorry,” “I think,” or “I’m no expert” in red, the same way a word would get underlined as an error if you misspelled it in spellcheck.
If you hover over the offending qualifier, a popup will appear with warnings like “Using ‘sorry’ frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership” or ” ‘Just’ demeans what you have to say.”
Using qualifiers can make you appear weak, Reiss argues.
“When someone uses one of these qualifiers, it minimizes others’ confidence in their ideas,” she wrote in a Medium post. “Qualifiers hint to the reader that you don’t have faith in what you’re saying. The last thing you need is to seem unsure of yourself.”
Just Not Sorry is aimed at women in particular. In her Medium post, Reiss frames the plugin as a service to embolden entrepreneurial women. One study found that women have a lower threshold than men for what kind of offense requires an apology, which may explain why women are perceived to be frequent apologizers.
If you prone to peppering your speech with compulsive sorries, then a tool like Just Not Sorry can make you more aware of how you speak. But not everyone is convinced about the plugin’s service as a social good. In response to Just Not Sorry, linguist Debbie Cameron wants us to understand that language is contextual, and not every “just” should be seen as demeaning.
“Words like ‘just’ have a range of functions: you can’t just [sic] assert that they are ‘demeaning’ in every context. (As I also pointed out, Nike didn’t choose ‘Just Do It’ as a slogan because they thought it sounded pleasingly weak and powerless),” she wrote in a blog post critiquing the plugin. “Even when ‘just’ is being used as a hedge (i.e., to make a pointless forceful or more tentative), the commonest reason for that is simply to be polite; and politeness is more strategic than demeaning.”
There is not just one way to word a work email, in other words. In defense of qualifiers like “sorry” and “like,” writer Ann Friedman noted that language is “often about building relationships,” adding that “to assume that our verbal tics are always negative is to assume that the goal of all speech is the same. Which of course is patently ridiculous.”