“Our findings, uh, were significant?”

Let’s start with a little visualization exercise.

Think for a moment about a woman whom you consider a powerful woman.

Think for a moment about how that woman speaks when she’s in front of a group or when she is in conversation delivering important information.

Does she sound confident? Are her sentences direct and concise? Does she end sentences as a declarative, not a question?

Last Fall we engaged in some reading and discussion around executive presence as part of the Association of Women Surgeons Annual Conference. One of the key components of executive presence is communication, which consists of both what you say and how you say it. Using fillers (“uh”, “um”, and “you know”) and engaging in the dreaded uptalk- a particular vice of the young and female- gives away power.

Let me say that again: when you speak in ways that make you appear less than confident, it gives away your power. It makes you appear less than you otherwise might be. It allows people to question if you really know what you’re talking about, even if you’re the international expert on the topic, because you don’t seem sure that you know what you’re talking about.

The short-term consequence, of course, is that you get mansplained…or that the guy sitting two seats over at the table presents the exact same idea without the uptalk and everyone thinks it’s brilliant. The long-term consequence is that you may not be viewed as leadership material in the same way so you won’t get that key promotion.  I understand that not everyone aspires to leadership roles- that’s fine- but why not be the absolute best professional you can be?

And how confident would you feel as a patient if you heard your surgeon say during the time out, “We’re going to take the appendix out?”

That’s what I thought.


(HT to @drattai for mentioning this topic over the weekend to me.  Apparently she heard some amazing women speak at ASCO last week who were undermining themselves by ending many sentences as questions. Let’s catch ourselves in this behavior, and let’s coach each other not to do it.)