by Carla Howard
Too serious? Too sensitive? Too loud? Too aggressive? Too ambitious? The list goes on…
When someone says “You are too <fill in the blank>”… how do you feel?
My initial reaction is shame. Which absolutely infuriates me!
This odd combination of shame and fury is totally unnerving. These two emotions don’t coexist well, which generally means a reaction that is neither thoughtful nor productive is just around the corner.
The Top Five Reasons I’m a Big Fan of Banishing “Too” When Describing People
- Labeling someone as “too” anything is never a compliment. Whatever comes next is a judgement. Even saying that a coworker is “too nice” indicates a deficit, and it undermines her leadership ability.
- The goal of telling someone that they are “too ____” is often an attempt to gain or maintain control, or to elicit a behavior change. When the goal is the latter, there are many more productive ways to have a coaching conversation.
- Using “too” when talking about someone who isn’t present is gossipy, and it can be career damaging. Stating that “Joan is just too ____” will leave the impression that she lacks control or capability.
- Saying “You come across as too ____” is equal to saying “You don’t fit in, and here’s why…” Ouch.
- The most interesting (and possibly controversial) reason to eliminate “too” is that it is primarily used to describe women. “Too” is rarely used to describe men.
When was the last time you were in a room where a man was labeled as too aggressive, too ambitious, or too serious? Even if this were to happen, what do you suppose his reaction would be? I’m guessing he would either laugh or take it as a compliment.
Women don’t do that.
We get embarrassed. We feel ashamed. Then we get angry.
The tragedy in all of this is that women need feedback in order to rise in our careers. We often miss the lesson when “too” is part of the conversation. Why? Because “too” attacks who we are instead of focusing on what we do.
So, what can we do?
When someone says that you are “too ___,” ask a few questions. Getting curious really helps when you need to move to dialogue vs. justification. Here are a few conversation starters that may come in handy:
“Can you provide a few examples to help me understand what you’re seeing?”
“What would you suggest that I do differently?”
And yes, when appropriate, “If I were a man, would you describe my contribution in the same way?”
If the feedback hits home, make small adjustments.
Let’s save our old friend “too” for things like food that is too spicy, winters that are too cold, and vacations that are too short. And remember, when others use “too” to describe how you show up, it may simply be a sign that you are passionately pursuing your dreams.
Shine on and be too fabulous! Life is too short for anything else anything less.
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Carla Howard is a keynote speaker, author, and professional mentor. Her mission is to help women become more influential and promotable so they can rise with confidence and grace! To learn more about Carla and the programs and services she offers, visit her website.
You can email Carla directly with comments or questions.