Using the word “just”

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I was making a cup of tea in the lunchroom, when a new member of staff walked in. A few months previous, a colleague had complained to me that people generally didn’t say hello to each other when they passed in common areas. Since then, I’d made it a rule to try and say hello to people when seeing them, and try to make a little small talk.

This isn’t exactly something I relish, because generally I’m pretty awkward when it comes to socializing. I often have the tendency to say the wrong thing, or blurt out anything that comes to mind in an attempt to fill the silence as quickly as possible. That or I’ll laugh spontaneously as the nervous tension within me bubbles up. Today was no different.

The member of staff I was speaking to had only been at the organization since the previous week, so we started talking about her new role. She was an admin in one department and as it turned out, I was doing a similar role in my own department.

It was while talking about this that I put my foot in my mouth, “It sounds like we’re doing similar work, I’m just an admin too.”

Usually the conversation would have gone on from there, but this time was different. My colleague stopped me to call me out on my use of the word “just”. Immediately I saw my mistake. By using the word “just” I was diminishing myself and my role. That was bad enough. But by also making the comparison to my colleague and her role, I was disparaging her too.

My initial aim was to explain that we were doing similar work. But instead, by adding that one word “just” the message I sent across was, “We do similar work…and that work isn’t very important.”

When I realized what I’d actually said, I apologized and we ended up having a short discussion about negative self-talk.

Once I got back to my desk I had to immediately Google the use of the word “just”, only to be met with numerous articles about how the word can be diminishing when used.

“Could you just make me a cup of tea?” may sound like a mundane enough request, but at the same time it’s also saying the requested action isn’t really difficult. In that way it could also be sending the signal that it should be easy for the other person to do.

That doesn’t really matter when it comes to cups of tea, but could easily be annoying if asking a colleague at work, “Could you just write me a 200 page report and have it on my desk by tomorrow?” That word, “just” can change your request a lot.

I searched through my work emails and found the word “just” was a regular part of my vocabulary. I most often used it as a way to reduce the importance of my own actions or questions. “I’m just emailing you to ask for your help.” “I just recreated the entire website.”

In this day and age when we’re bombarded with emails daily, failing to respond is easy. I wonder if it’s even easier when you receive an email that is immediately diminished with the word “just”.

Am I reading into this too much? Possibly. But it’s interesting to me that I can be so unaware of my own negativity. That’s problematic.

This is potentially one of those mind blowing moments when you realize that everything you thought you knew about yourself is a lie. But I already knew I was pretty negative, so not really. However, it is kind of interesting to realize I was being negative when that wasn’t even my intention.

My main issue is that I can have these bad habits and not even realize them. That, is the power of negative self-talk. It blends seamlessly into all the other things we say to ourselves. So we can never understand why we suddenly feel bad, or are losing confidence in our abilities.

Even though the answer is obvious now: when you spend weeks telling people you’re “just an admin” or just an anything (“just a mom” was my colleagues pet peeve), eventually you’re going to start feeling worthless.

It’s amazing how one small word can have so much power. But at the same time, I know I have the power to cease using it.

After all, the word “just” is just a word.

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2 thoughts on “Using the word “just””

  1. Definitely relate to this. I’ve made a very intentional effort not to say “Just following up…” or “Just wanted to reach out and say…” in work emails as I realized I was diminishing my own point before I’d even said it. I’m sure it’s some sort of in-built Britishness….”nothing to see here”!

    1. Not sure if it’s a British thing, but I think many of us find it awkward to interrupt somebody at work with a request that is basically adding more work to their plate. Maybe by framing it with the word “just” we’re telling ourselves, or trying to tell the other person, that it won’t take them that long to do what we’re requesting…That or, like me, we’re just unwittingly sabotaging ourselves.

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