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 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!
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