3 things women say that weaken the power of their words.

If we're to believe the self-help aisle of every '90s bookstore, men and women talk and act so differently because we're really from two opposing planets.

While that's not factually accurate, there's no denying that men and women have unique communication styles, and that disparity can make things challenging for women looking to get ahead in careers still dominated by male voices. 

But when the first female presidential nominee for a major political party addresses the nation to describe her vision for America, only to be met by pundits dissecting her smile and her "shrill" tone instead of her proposed policies — it’s clear that words really matter. Not simply because we’re women, but especially because we’re women.


So, what makes language explicitly "female"?

Ask a linguist and they'll tell you that women's language is generally more expressive and emotional. Women learn to speak earlier and with greater complexity. We're more likely to use dramatic punctuation or emojis to help us get our point across. We're also especially likely to use words and phrases that soften an opinion or gently undermine a point in order to make others feel more comfortable.

That is particularly important because these language choices are not accidental. We live in a culture that values female voices more when they reflect traditional "lady" characteristics of humility, likability, and politeness above all. 

Others who've written about this topic have addressed more reasons why women might avoid using stronger language. Jezebel's Tracy Moore wrote about the reality of a male-dominated society where women live with the "the ever-present background fear of being perceived as a nag." Author Tara Mohr acknowledged that for centuries, "women did not have the political and human rights to protect our safety if we spoke up and threatened or angered those around us."

All of those are true and fair. But at the same time, they're holding us back.

It is 2016. If women can fight and die for a country; if we can bust ghosts and glass ceilings; if we can raise our voices for intersectional equality and fair, equal wages; then we are more than ready to match the way we communicate with this moment in history.

Here are the three biggest verbal tics women use that can make language lose its power:

Sorry, but we're just saying "just" and "sorry" too much.

Rosa Parks used powerful action and words to ignite the fire of the U.S. civil rights movement. Sadly, her memorable words lose a little something when they're coupled with two of the most common words in female language: "just" and "sorry."

Saying "sorry" when it isn't necessary is so common that a shampoo company made an ad about it. But researchers say using the word risks taking responsibility for faults and actions that aren’t our own — or aren’t even faults. Being mindful of when we apologize (and where and how) is good advice regardless of gender or workplace.

The use of "just" is a little more complicated. Some women, like former Google executive Ellen Leanse, believe that adding "just" to statements gives other people more authority and control and makes the speaker seem defensive. 

As she wrote on her blog

"It hit me that there was something about the word I didn’t like. It was a 'permission' word, in a way — a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking, 'Can I get something I need from you?'"

Others argue that "just" can be used effectively as a way to give importance to a certain word, like the famed Nike slogan "Just do it." Though, to be fair, that famous statement wasn't written by — or inspired by — a woman.

Self-deprecating phrases can make us seem less smart.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has enough problems with people misattributing her most famous quote to other people; she doesn't need the power of her words diminished.

Using qualifiers that lessen female authority to make strong statements, like "I'm not an expert" or "You've worked on this longer than I have," are a common way that women couch their statements when they're afraid of offending others. 

Unfortunately, this can have the unintended effect of making a female speaker seem less credible and her ideas less worthy.

Being overly cautious can unintentionally undermine us.

It's very easy to end a statement, presentation, or even an email with a qualifying statement like "Do you know what I mean?" or "Am I making sense?" These phrases are subtle underminers, making it seem that women don't have faith in their own ideas and are asking for approval for them. 

Phrases like "What do you think?" or "Looking forward to your comments or questions" are a better way to make the same point.

Let's be real: If a woman wants to keep these words and phrases in her vocabulary, she is more than welcome to do so.

There are perfectly good reasons why someone would choose to soften language and make it more friendly. Maybe it helps move things forward with someone difficult. Maybe they've already been told — as too many working women have — that talking more like a man at work was making them seem "judgmental" or overly negative. Maybe they simply like using them — and, seriously, who are any of us to tell anyone else what they can and cannot say?

But in a world where women have fought so hard for what we have and still have so much further to go, being aware of the unintended implications of our language isn't a bad idea. 

Especially if it helps women eventually prove that the way we say things doesn’t matter nearly as much as what we’re saying.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via Hennepin County Sheriff

The verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minnesota police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, has many breathing a sigh of relief. Even though the disturbing video evidence of Floyd dying under Chauvin's knee is impossible to refute, it's incredibly hard to convict an officer of murder.

The United States judicial system is so preferential to law enforcement that even though the world saw murder in broad daylight, many were skeptical of whether he'd be convicted.

"Most people, I think, believe that it's a slam dunk," David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert in policing, told the Washington Post before the trial. "But he said, "the reality of the law and the legal system is, it's just not."

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.