How Those Qualifiers You Use Undermine Your Confidence

sweater

Qualifiers. Once we know about them, we can spot them anywhere.

They pepper our language with hesitation. They inflate our carefully constructed safety net. They act as caution tape, as bubble wrap, as an emotional buffer. We use them to shield ourselves as we navigate our lives.

But what are qualifiers? They are strings of words we use to justify, minimize and preface our work — especially when they’re unnecessary. Qualifiers can be the result of a culture that teaches women to deflect compliments or ownership and/or lingering self-doubt.

qualifiers

Qualifiers can take many forms and often sound like deflected compliments, backpedaling from criticism or cushioning the fall before we take a leap. It’s one thing when we’re having an honest discussion about what is going on in our minds and – when it comes to our work – the creative process. The trouble comes when we throw out too much context in order to soften the blow for ourselves.

While harmless enough at first thought, what we’re really saying when we use qualifiers lies just beneath the surface. “Thank you, BUT,” becomes “Even with affirmation, I’m not comfortable enough to stand by my choices.” “It’s just a hobby of mine,” turns into “My contributions aren’t valuable enough.” And “I tried to accomplish something new, but I don’t quite think I got there,” reads as “I know my work isn’t the best out there, and I don’t want you thinking I’m overconfident in myself.”

Speaking with qualifiers perpetuates a lack of self belief, no matter how small.

The pull we feel to add context to how we present ourselves can cloud our vision. We can’t see our accomplishments simply for what they are, robbing ourselves of the opportunity to enjoy what we’ve created — whether it be a favorite spot in our homes, a new piece of art, reaching a goal or trying something new.

Qualifiers also clutter valuable feedback. When we jump to devalue our own work before anyone has had a chance to experience it, we effectively lower everyone’s expectations and blunt criticism’s knife. Instead of rushing to protect ourselves, let’s give self trust a try. Let’s leave room for mistakes and not expect perfection. Welcome well-placed criticism with a hunger. Without the armor of a backstory or justification, our work can speak for itself. We get the truest feedback this way – and even unexpected, unprompted praise!

confident speech

The words we say, even to ourselves, hold tremendous power. Even if we don’t realize it, we believe what we hear come out of our mouths. So instead, let’s be kind to ourselves and swear off qualifiers.

The next time you feel tempted to qualify your worth, turn to a new tactic. Try saying nothing. Believe in yourself and let things speak for themselves. Don’t push back criticism or turn away compliments. Try saying “thank you.” Leave the sentence there and recognize your accomplishments. You may be surprised at the slow, steady affect it can have on improving your outlook.

In a world focused on de-cluttering and minimizing every aspect of our lives, let’s experiment and apply that same practice to the words we speak.

In what context are you most prone to using qualifiers?

Images via Monica Friese

Avery lives in Des Moines, Iowa – the best-kept secret in the Midwest. She writes full-time for a nonprofit while also working on two blogs of her own. She’s always looking for perfect chapstick, warm socks, great people and good words.

14 COMMENTS
  • Niki Rhodes March 13, 2017

    Although I agree with the general assertion of this article – that we (as women AND as humans) need to stop adding disclaimers to every suggestion, idea, and contribution that comes out of our mouths, I also question that it is unanimously accurate.

    As a less-experienced member of my industry (at my day job), I’m often working with experts in materials and processes completely foreign to me. In these conversations, I am confident, generous, and curious, and at the same time, I add qualifiers to reassure my colleagues that I understand I am not an authority on the subject being discussed, but rather a student eager to learn and collaborate. When done with consciousness and self-awareness, I think that qualifiers can be a helpful form of humility and reject stereotypes about people my age.

    Am I naive to think that qualifiers can be helpful instead of disempowering, or should I be “taking the leap”? Interested to hear other thoughts on the matter. Thanks!

    • Ivan Borodin March 13, 2017

      Totally agree with both your assessment of this fine article and your introduction of a time when ‘qualifiers’ are likely necessary. I am particularly fond of this section of your comment:

      “I add qualifiers to reassure my colleagues that I understand I am not an authority on the subject being discussed, but rather a student eager to learn and collaborate. When done with consciousness and self-awareness, I think that qualifiers can be a helpful form of humility…”

  • Courtney March 13, 2017

    This article is an important reminder that certain words can really undermine our own self-worth. I am living proof of this, and I often find that I am not taken as seriously when I use these unnecessary words!

    My father once corrected me when I left him a voicemail, “Hi Dad, it’s just me.” He responded, “No, it’s not “just” you! Don’t discount your worth.” From that moment on, I have been cognizant of my use of the word “just” in this context.

    A side note: I want all the sweaters in the images in this article. Where can I find them?!

    • Mel March 13, 2017

      I say “just” in contexts like this all the time and never thought about it. Thanks for pointing that one out.

      ALSO – I second the question about the sweaters!

  • Maggie M March 12, 2017

    Wow, this is really important, especially if women speak with qualifiers in front of their children (daughters, in particular). It perpetuates an unconscious self abnegation and lack of self worth to the next generation.

    When I hear my mother undervalue herself and her accomplishments, it brings me down as well. Even after I’ve brought it to her attention, she is unable to recognize her own value and self worth.

    I became aware that I was doing the same thing when I had children and started hearing my mother’s voice emerging.

    I’ve done A LOT of work to turn this around, not just for my girls, but for myself. You cannot care for others if you don’t care for yourself.

    • Maggie M March 12, 2017

      CORRECTION: Not for my girls, but for myself!

      • Nancy March 16, 2017

        You meant “not ONLY for my girls but for myself.”

  • Anita March 12, 2017

    Wow–This is a mirror to my self confidence, for sure.
    I am working on being more cognizant of how I value myself and how I project that value. This article is a reminder and an affirmation that definitely takes practice, but is totally attainable. Thank you for this, Avery!

  • Natalie March 12, 2017

    I don’t think I’ve written an email in the last year where I haven’t used the word just at some point. It’s a habit I really want to get out of, but it’s so ingrained that it’s kind of tricky

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

    • Avery March 12, 2017

      I agree with you! “Just” can creep in so easily. Being aware of it can be the first step to stronger language. Thanks for reading!
      Xx

  • I’m prone to use qualifiers in almost every setting. It’s a silly habit I have and I didn’t even know of this habit until recently when I began trying to reduce it. It’s still hard to stop myself using justifiers in real life context when I’m not aware, but in emails and written content, I’ve made a lot of progress.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Laura March 12, 2017

      I completely resonate with this article. I have recently ventured into the world of blogging and through daily mindfulness have noticed how I have recently started openly slamming my work before giving others the chance to read and experience it for themselves! The first step is also to notice, to be awake to negative behaviour patterns but with a dream to publish my work on well known, respected wellbeing sites I need to start cultivating a practice of self-belief and confidence! Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

      • Avery March 12, 2017

        Laura, I totally feel you. Opening ourselves up to the world in writing is very intimidating, and it’s so easy to try and protect ourselves from it. I’m excited to hear you’re inspired to push yourself and grow as an artist! Your goals may be closer than you think. Thank you for reading!
        Xx

    • Avery March 12, 2017

      It’s crazy to think how we can have such an ingrained habit without being aware of what we do. Even taking small steps can make a huge difference in how we perceive ourselves. Thank you for the comment and for reading!
      Xx

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