Sorry, but could you possibly, when you have a minute, read this blog post?


Read This.

Which sounds better?


The other day I sent my sister an SMS. This is my sister, not a work colleague, a boss, or a stranger – my sister. It read-

“When you get a chance can you please send me the height and width of that bookcase and I’ll try to sort out a pick-up xx”

I sent it. While I waited for a reply I scanned my message again. Hang on, I’ve done it again, I thought.

I struggle with passive, weak language. It slips out of my mouth without warning, it hides in my smses and emails. I’ve actively tried, in the last few years, to be more direct and firm. To simply state what I want without apologizing. I am getting better, but obviously still have a way to go. So why didn’t I send her a message more like this:

“Hey sis, send me those bookcase dimensions and I’ll organize a pick up. Thanks.” ?

Still polite and friendly, but direct and clear. There’s a few reasons. And its common to many women. Judith Baxter, author of The Language of Female Leadership researched women in UK board rooms over an 18 month timeframe and discovered women are four times more likely than men to use weak language and to second guess themselves. Why do we do this?

  • To avoid conflict
  • To downplay our own power
  • To be liked

Who do men not feel the need to gain approval from their audience? Why do they feel comfortable with their own power?

My guess its that it is years of practice and habit. These things are inculcated over years of watching our mothers, fathers and teachers. They are learnt as teenagers, reading magazines and watching movies. As teens we love to copy, to play roles and we pick up language nuances subconsciously. Eventually those roles become part of our persona. We daren’t be the bossy, brash one; we are terrified of being cast out of the group.

To be an effective leader, business owner and role model to my daughter and son, I am making a commitment to change these habits. To stand strong with my own power and to believe in myself and my needs. I am not a teenager playing roles, I am my own person and my words have value and power. I want my daughter to see this strength.


So whats my action plan?

To start by observing:

Listen to myself and others. Be hyperaware of language.

Re-read my SMSes and emails closely.

And then edit.

Edit myself – think before speaking.

Edit my emails and SMSes – scan each and every one and remove passive, meaningless words.

There are a few usual suspects. Words that slip easily into the conversation, words that belittle and reduce our own power without us even realizing it:


“I’m just going to pop down to the shops.”

“I’d just like to thank everyone for coming today.”

Why just? Why not be direct?

“I’m off to the shops.”

“Thank you for coming today.”

Doesn’t it sounds more confident, more credible?



It’s nice to apologize if you’ve made a mistake or arrived late to a meeting. But sometimes we apologize for no reason whatsoever.

This is from Jessica Bennett’s article on

“Once, I was my trying to leave a bookstore and my way was blocked by a woman who was sitting on the floor,” screenwriter Nell Scovell tells me. “I hesitated and was about to turn around when she noticed and started to get up. ‘Sorry,’ she said, because she’d been blocking my path. ‘Sorry,’ I said, because I made her move. Then she bumped another woman who turned around and said, you guessed it, ‘Sorry.’ Three grown women all apologizing to each other for no reason in under five seconds.



I use ‘maybe’ all the time:

“Maybe we should go out to dinner this weekend.”

“Maybe I’ll go and have a shower quickly before we leave.”

Remove those ‘maybe’s’ from the beginning of the sentence and the words sing out clear and true – I want to go out to dinner, I want to have a shower, so why add those unnecessary words?!



As above – a really unnecessary power stealer that sits at the beginning of our sentences.

“I think I need to get a haircut.”

“I think we need to relook at the financials before making a decision.”

Take out ‘I think’ and these sentences are strong and direct.


The small changes we make can have large effects when they ripple out. Small changes in language can help you feel stronger and more confident.

Since I’ve made the transition to full time working mum, from stay at home mum, I’ve had to force myself to put MY needs first. If I have to stay late or go to a function – the household is going to have to deal with that.

Since I have started being more direct I have discovered it is easier to put myself first, to feel confident in my power and my journey – and to realize my value as a nourished, working mother to my kids.

I hope that as I continue with my conscious observation and editing, this confidence will continue to grow and take roots in all other aspects of my life.


What is your experience with passivity and weak words?

Take time to observe your language for a couple of days and see where you can improve.

Let me know how it goes!


Further reading:

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – esp. pages 26 – 30



Is this really life for business women in 2014?

Thanks for  Max Schireson for putting the word out that everyone struggles with work-life balance and its not just something for women to worry about. Have you ever heard of a male being asked how he manages the demands of his busy life with the demands of his family and young kids? Never. Why do women continually have to face this question, this expectation?

An excerpt from Schireson’s blog:

“Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.”

You can find an excellent write up plus the full text of his blog here

This article comes hot on the heels of a article about raising funds as a woman in Silicon Valley, which you can read here. The anonymous interviewee talks about being groped and propositioned by men in high management roles who don’t think anything of it. She talks about how the balance of what to wear to work everyday is such a fine line – not too tight, not too baggy, ‘classy, but not too expensive’  -and also how just plain old removing her gender from the equation meant the difference between a chance at funding or not.

“I asked my allies and colleagues to stop using certain descriptions—“force of nature,” “fire cracker”—because they were loaded with gender assumptions. I asked our business development lead to remove gender-specific pronouns from his initial descriptions of the company and me, and instead to say things like, “This CEO is exceptional. I’ve never seen an entrepreneur work so hard.” The longer we went without mentioning my gender, it turned out, the further the conversations progressed.

Is this the corporate world we still live in in 2014? It’s hard to believe we are still here, still facing these kinds of barriers. In so many ways it feels like we are moving forward but the actual numbers and stories like these show that the movement is minimal.

What can we do to shake things up? Will it take the next generation? Check out this excerpt from the Forbes article:

If we believe this issue is isolated to an older generation that ‘doesn’t know better’, we can review the comments of 28-year-old Justin Mateen, who stated that having a young female cofounder at Tinder “makes the company seem like a joke” and “devalues” it. Or the comments of the male 20-something Twitter employee, who told me, “You should really hire a nerdy looking dude to represent your company publicly. You know, to make up for your looks.”

Its hard not to get angry and it’s hard to know where to start or what to do. I hope Woolf Works can be a refuge, a place of encouragement and nourishment. I also take comfort in the very supportive community of women’s business groups in Singapore-

Athena Network


Singapore UN Committee for Women

Women’s Register


and more.

Am I missing any groups?

What is the Singapore corporate scene like for a woman? Have you experienced anything like the woman above?

Are you a male? How do YOU balance the demands of work and family?




Sunday Reads

I had a motherhood fail today – I took the kids to a waterplay park, already wearing their swimmers and swim nappies and forgot to take any other clothes. Good times.

I then had two shivery, un-nappied and unhappy kids jiggling around and dropping towels while waiting for Sunday lunch takeaways from the fried rice stall. Felt like an excellent mother alright. Perhaps it’s something to do with transitioning to a fulltime working mum about two months ago, I seem to have forgotten all the basics for outings. Now they are dressed, napped, fed and actually playing quietly and I am enjoying a cup of tea and some Sunday reading..

E-commerce friends will like this one, though many of these apply to all businesses:

41 pieces of advice from e-commerce retailers

A lovely piece of writing that will resonate with those living far from home or even just frequent travelers:

A Place That Will Stay Within Me

Fantastic profiles of Australian women in business:

Browse by Location

Planning a trip to Bali in October to listen and learn at

The Ubud Writers Festival (anyone want to join me?)


What are you reading this Sunday?




Woolf Works’ Event: Futurebooks: Starting a Company in Singapore

Futurebooks  came to Woolf Works and gave a fantastic presentation on Starting a Company in Singapore to a crowd of around 25 people in The Den, our lovely upstairs attic space. They focused on problems foreign directors face, and the types of solutions that work, like choosing the right legal entity (sole proprietorship vs. private limited company); incorporation + compliance matters; and applying for work passes for foreign directors (employment pass vs. letter of consent).

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Woolf Works is a women’s coworking space on Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore. We are situated in a beautiful old shophouse and have various options available for venue hire. With our attic workshop area ‘The Den’ and our ‘Main Space’, we can accommodate any gathering, from one-on-one coaching sessions and  intimate workshops, to classes with fifty people attending. Enquire at