Perceptions: They form quickly and set like cement.

Unfortunately, other people’s perceptions of us often form in our blind spots. It is hard to really know just how we are coming across to others. You may think you are just having a casual conversation or making a post on social media, but people are forming opinions about you instantly based on what you say or write.

Relationships can be formed or broken over words spoken. Countries can be split or united. Business covenants are made (or broken) in meetings and contracts.

As women, we are often unable to see how the words we use on a daily basis in the office can affect people’s perceptions of us.

Here are four small ways women discredit themselves over and over again – without even realizing it.

1. Apologizing Constantly

I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

But what are you sorry about? Constant apologizing can be the kiss of death for a women in the office. Unless you stepped on someone’s foot, there is no reason to be sorry.

2. Asking Questions When You Know the Answers

Often, when women end their sentences as if they were questions – on purpose – to keep the dialogue going. This is called “upspeak.”

Silence is powerful. Be okay with sitting in the silence, especially at meetings. If you know you tend to talk too much when you get nervous, focus on your breath. Feel your chest rise and fall. Disengage the wild thoughts and the compulsion.

3. Wishy-Washy Speak

Nothing on earth discredits a women – especially with a man in a meeting – more than words like “perhaps,” “just,” “actually,” “maybe,” “a little bit,” etc.

Be definite in your speech. You are not “a little bit concerned” about your disruptive employee. You are concerned. This is business. No one in the room feels comfortable with “maybe” or “a little bit” of anything. Be firm. Be definite. Have an opinion. It’s okay.

4. Fear of Being a Woman

I’ve been asked many times if I’ve had to “act more like a man” to get ahead in business.

Never. This isn’t about changing who you are or asking you to shelf your sensitivity, compassion, and collaborative spirit. Find your voice and style. Women can be very powerful without coming off as authoritarian.

Here’s what it boils down to at work: Like it or not, men rule the business world still. If that weren’t true, we’d see more than five percent of S&P 500 CEO roles belonging to women.

There is a game that is being played in the office. Know that there is a game and figure out the rules. Once you know the game, you can play it successfully.

A version of this article originally appeared in Plaid for Women.

Elizabeth Lions is an executive career coach. You can learn more at

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