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“Just”: One-Word that Undermines you Daily, and How to Change It

On the eve of the 2016 Bledisloe Cup match Australian rugby coach Michael Cheika woke up to an uncomfortable surprise. There splashed on the front page of a national newspaper he saw himself dressed as a circus clown complete with a bright red nose. There for millions of people to see.

In top level sport every small advantage counts and the teams and athletes that win have learned that success is won in the mind as much as from the body, if not more. Being undermined by your opposition is one thing but undermining yourself is another thing completely. What would you think if I said you’re probably undermining yourself every day and without even knowing it?

If you think there’s no way you would do that, then read on because one small word you use daily does precisely that.

Do I really undermine myself? Me?

Let’s take the example of Gavin, a Team Manager. Every day he’s trying to do his best in a hectic, high pressure company. He’s managing his team, customer demands, requirements from managers, achieving KPI’s and trying to squeeze in some time for himself (usually unsuccessfully).   

Summoning his courage to voice his opinion at a meeting he says, “It’s just an idea, maybe we could….” And then he feels deflated when his idea isn’t taken seriously. Slumping down exhausted later in the day he says to his colleague “it’s just that I feel completely responsible for everything” and then “I just feel like I’m going to collapse”.   

What’s the big deal?  We say this ‘just’ word every day

We hear this ‘just’ word every day and maybe you say it yourself?  As it turns out, it makes a huge difference. NLP as a communication and self-leadership model helps us understand that how we convey our message directly impacts how we feel about it, the impression we make and the response we receive.

Using ‘just’ in your communication is a common habit but it sends a message of subordination or apology that weakens your message and undermines your own value. When Gavin pitched his idea saying, “It’s just that I thought…”. This simple phrase means that he’s unconsciously giving the other person authority and control. With this one small word he’s set a parent / child dynamic where he’s the child. He’s diluted his opinion and reduced his own confidence. This is not helping him be a leader or influence effectively. All in one short, sharp and unconscious move.

“I ‘just’ feel like I’m going to collapse”

And it goes deeper.  By Gavin saying “it’s just that I feel completely responsible for everything” he’s reducing the size of the situation in his mind to try and cope with it. He’s ‘just’ completely exhausted. That’s like saying “It’s just that my house burnt down”, that’s not a congruent message and it doesn’t make sense.

With this one small word he’s distancing himself from his reality rather than taking full ownership of what’s truly happening. It’s a superficial and ineffective technique in attempting to manage stress. Wow!  Who knew so much harm came from one small word right?

You’re probably asking, “well, how do I not undermine myself?”

As a leader (including self-leadership) you want to be confident in yourself and valued by others, right? The first step is having an awareness of when and how often you use the word just.  Each time you have awareness then you have a choice to use or remove it. For example, “I just thought we could try..” is not being confident with your message.  Conveying a confident opinion is “How about this as an option?”.

With Gavin’s other example, “I think “I just feel completely exhausted”, is ‘just’ needed? Does it even make sense?  Gavin could fully acknowledge his situation by ‘I feel completely exhausted!’. By this small change he then recognises the situation which opens a new opportunity for addressing it.

Is ‘just’ all bad or can I still use it in some places?

Maybe you’re now thinking where it is OK to use ‘just’?  There’s not a black and white rule but there are appropriate situations to use ‘just’.  Situations where it does make sense often involve an immediate time, such as:

  • ‘I’ve just left the meeting and I’m on my way home now’, or
  • ‘I just saw Steve at the show…’.

If you are trying to influence someone by making a big task seem small …

Then ‘just’ is very effective.  Have you ever been on the receiving end of “can you just quickly do this?”, only to realise later it was a week’s work?  Being aware when you’re saying it as well as when you’re on the receiving end of ‘just’ pays dividends.

Of course, you might be thinking all of this is complete rubbish

If you are thinking that using ‘just’ whenever you like is perfectly fine, that’s a good scepticism to have. Much like if you had an old belief that you couldn’t ride a bike or swim when you were a child, you’d want to go out and test it to see if that is still true for you now.

Try removing ‘just’ from your language for a week and check what difference it makes. Notice how it feels internally for you and the external effects with the people you’re connecting with. Check, does it feel better?  Are you being heard more? How has it changed your interactions with others?

Gavin was feeling overwhelmed and undervalued.  

Part of this situation was caused by Gavin undermining himself and not valuing what he contributed. If he wasn’t valuing himself, why would anyone else?.

To compound this, in an attempt to cope he was minimising the situations in his mind.  Rather than being truthful to himself to fully acknowledge what was occurring. Having a new awareness of how he was both devaluing himself and trying to cope with an unhealthy situation was a big wake up call. He could see:

1.    How he was undermining and devaluing himself daily without realising it

2.    That using ‘just’ was an ineffective strategy to cope with unsustainable situations and something had to change

3.    At an even deeper level, he could start to see what he feared when he did feel compelled to use just. Was he fearing being wrong, or was there an old childhood fear of not being good enough?

Like any new healthy habit, it takes dedication and practice to master it.

Some of this may have surprised you as much as that front page picture surprised Michael Cheika.  If some of this does ring true for you, the next step is to be fully aware of when you’re using just. By being conscious of when, where and how often you’re devaluing yourself you then have the new choice to deliberately strike ‘just’ when it’s not serving you.

Another positive step is to explore more how you can engage with and relate differently to yourself and others to awaken you to your true potential.

I know for me it didn’t happen overnight and I still catch myself using it. You might even enquire deeper to identify what are the old beliefs you’re holding onto when you’re tempted to use ‘just’.

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