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  • Writer's picturePatricia Grayhall

Women Use Weak Language to Get Ahead

In the early 1980s, I joined a mostly all-male multispecialty clinic to set up a new program in my specialty. As a leader, I aggressively advocated for resources and recognition. After a few months, the Chief of Medicine called me into his office to admonish me that to be more effective, I should to “go to charm school”.

Yesterday’s article in the New York Times reminded me of this. Adam Grant cites numerous studies showing that women are more effective and better liked by their male bosses and peers when they use weak language. “Disclaimers (I might be wrong, but…), hedges (maybe, sort of), and tag questions (don’t you think?) make women appear more likeable and less threatening to men. Even now, it is a better strategy for women wanting to get ahead in male-dominated professions. “A woman who speaks authoritatively,” he notes, “still gets branded as a self-centered shrew.”

Grant cites other studies showing that women giving speeches to a male audience are better liked and more persuasive if they use weak language. This is not true for female audiences who find the same speech given by a woman more persuasive if she speaks assertively. This must have posed an impossible dilemma for Hillary Clinton when she ran for president and why she had such a likability problem.

Is it too much to ask that everyone’s contributions be judged on substance, not style? Maybe, someday, in my dreams.



Wow, that does explain a lot. All the name calling Hillary had to put up with because men thought her too aggressive and woman not aggressive enough.

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