“Am I Making Sense?” – Language and Power Dynamics in Meetings

A photo of a woman surrounded by overlayed question marks looking doubtful.
Image by Sophie Janotta from Pixabay.

As I non-native English speaker, I was puzzled by women finishing their sentences with “Am I making sense?”. I finally understood the reason.

Although I’d been fluent in English for many years before, it was not until I moved to the UK that I lived in a place where English was the native language by default. (Yes, I’d lived in Canada for 5 years but it was in Quebec City, where most people have French as their mother tongue).

Back to my life in the UK, I remember being intrigued by how women – and only women – would finish their interventions in meetings with “Am I making sense?”.

Why? Because, it didn’t make sense to me that very confident women – at least they looked that way to me – would ask that question after sharing their opinion in a concise and assertive manner.

And I began to find explanations for it.

1.- For women confident in their ideasConfident women are a hard pill to swallow in leadership. We expect women to be “collaborative” – e.g. take the notes, be the admin for the team, do the glue work – not be assertive or confident.

How do women tackle the bias against confident women?

“Playing” dumb. By downplaying what they are saying, they’re hoping to not look threatening and get others’ buy-in (or mansplaining).

2.- For women concerned that their ideas may be too much – These women have picked up that their organisations and peers like to congratulate themselves on doing exactly the same things over and over and they won’t support rocking the status quo. In the past, those women have proposed a visionary project, an innovative idea, or a transformational initiative and it has been rejected for being too much.

How do women tackle the bias against their ideas?

They downplay their ideas by presenting them as a “thought” with the hope they’ll stick this time around.

3.- For women concerned that their ideas may be too little – Society has indoctrinated women that perfection is expected from them, with no margin for error. Those women don’t believe they have permission to express their opinions because they judge their ideas as not strategic” enough, “visionary” enough, or “fully formed”.

How do women tackle their bias against their own ideas not being “good enough”?

They share their opinions with the caveat “Am I making sense?” in the hope that the feedback they receive it’s not too harsh.

My take

In the past, hearing a woman saying “Am I making sense?” used to upset me.

Now, I salute all those women that use “Am I making sense?” as a way to overcome the patriarchal constraints imposed on us.

I’d still prefer those women experiment with other ways to connect with their audience and instead use alternatives such as

  • “comments?”
  • “any questions?”
  • “I’m curious about what’s your feedback.”

BACK TO YOU: What’s your take?


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