Just recently, I spoke with the interns at the office about their use of passive language. One of the interns, working on a project that required some tech assistance, worked more closely with me than others. Each time, she would preface her requests with “can I interrupt you for a minute to ask some help?”
Eventually, I told her that her passive tone was not necessary. I was attuned to the implicit bias that happens when women use passive language in the workplace. It was my literal job to help with the project. Her asking for support was expected, not an interruption of my work. Her work was my work. And the passive nature of the work made it seem like she was never sure what she wanted or needed. We both knew this was not the case.
Interrupting the Behavior
As a cis man, I spoke about how I heard this passive language, and that cis men were not using this type of language when asking for the same support in the office. It was powerful to interrupt this behavior and hopefully help her professional growth. From the point of interruption, her language changed dramatically, It also changed her sense of authority of the project, from one that relied on others to help her to one where she was the one leading the project with support and input.
The Medium post Quit Using Passive Language at Work and Start Taking up More Space by Eve Mullen reinforces this same lesson, woman to woman. But I believe that anyone who includes passive language in their communication – written or otherwise – can benefit.
For instance, Mullen shares “I started researching passive language in the workplace and stumbled across a Google Chrome extension for Gmail called Just Not Sorry, the brainchild of Tami Reiss, born out of building awareness of “how we qualify our message and diminish our voice”. Once installed (it’s free I might add) this trusty extension boldly underlines in red the words that directly try to undermine the message you’re trying to send.”
Share Your Best Practice
What are your favorite ways to interrupt similar passive language behaviors? Share them in the comments below!