Look back at the last few emails you sent. Do you see phrases like “I’m no expert” or “does that make sense?” or words like “actually” or “sorry?” If so you might want to download a new Chrome extension called Just Not Sorry, a free plug-in that taps into Gmail and warns you when you are using words and phrases that undermine your message.
The app was created by Tami Reiss, CEO of Cyrus Innovation, a software development agency. Reiss put a call to arms out on Medium late last month, hoping to get at least 10,000 people (women in particular) to pledge to stop diminishing their voices in the coming year. As of 4:00 p.m. ET on December 31, Just Not Sorry was up to 30,000 downloads, she tells Fast Company.
Part of what prompted this initiative was Reiss’s work as a CEO. Although Cyrus works with companies of all sizes, Reiss’s work with female founders of startups trying to turn a vision into a reality made one thing very clear.
“So many of them have great ideas but don’t communicate the confidence in them that will inspire investors,” she says, “Given that raising money is often that hardest part of building a startup, it’s incredibly important to be an effective communicator.”
Reiss also noticed that even those gathered at brunch for the League of Extraordinary Women confessed they fell prey to using language that softened speech even when it was necessary to assert leadership.
Though Reiss admits the list of words and phrases the Gmail plug-in uses were not derived from a psychologist or organizational behaviorist, she did mine conversations with other women as well as articles from Tara Sophia Mohr, who points out these words are “shrinkers” and contribute to ways that we sabotage ourselves. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of the Manhattan-based think tank Center for Talent Innovation, says using “sorry” makes a woman appear unfit for leadership. Cartoonist Yao Xiao suggests that sorry could be replaced with “thank you.” Reiss even drew inspiration from Fast Company‘s post on useless phrases that should be eliminated from emails.
The word “sorry,” for example, has crept into women’s speech and now makes appearances any time there’s a need to interject or to ask for help. It’s so pervasive–and destructive– that the American Association of University Women (AAUW) even partnered with Pantene to do a video campaign aimed to point out and discourage women from perpetuating the habit of apologizing unnecessarily.
Reiss believes that the plug-in will solve this problem in both written and verbal communication. “In our beta testing group who has been using the plug-in for a few weeks now, we’ve heard some stories about how even when they aren’t writing emails they are more mindful about using ‘just/sorry/I think,’” she explains. “It happens when they text and also when they are talking,” Reiss adds, “We think of Just Not Sorry as contributing to the mindfulness around the use of the words.”
Behavioral scientists suggest there are plenty of reasons people fail to make good on their promises to be better, but there are factors that can push you toward perseverance. One of these is feedback. Research confirms feedback that explains and contextualizes where you are in relation to a goal can significantly impact whether you reach it.
Here’s how it works when you write an email using Just Not Sorry. The plug-in will underline the following words and phrases: “Just,” “Sorry,” “Actually,” “I think,” “Does that make sense?” and “I’m not an expert.”
If you hover over the underlined words, an explanation box will pop up telling you why you should reconsider your choice. Just, for example, displays this quote from Mohr: “Just demeans what you have to say. Just shrinks your power. It’s time to say goodbye to the justs.” Simple enough.
The problem is that the extension is programmed to look for those words no matter what the use case. I wrote an email this morning with the sentence: “I just sent over a document,” and the plug-in underlined the just. In that context the word doesn’t undermine the message, it’s actually a good modifier to assert that something is timely.
Reiss says that the code for the extension is open sourced so other words and phrases can eventually be added. “We’ve gotten requests for “like” and “but,” says Reiss, yet the biggest demand is for Just Not Sorry to be made available on Outlook and other mail providers.