Here is a little food for thought with an invitation to notice how often and why you use the word “just” when communicating with others and even with yourself. I have had a few conversations about this with colleagues and we commented on how including “just” in our wording seems to be a part of how we speak. It turns out that “just” is often highly overused and can distort messages we wish to communicate. In some ways we may say that this is hardly a noteworthy subject however there is a rationale for becoming more aware because of the ways using “just” can diminish and discount something said or believed.
There are several websites that have analyzed the word “just” to help define it and describe what part of speech it is. For example, the website Pro Writing Aid states that one meaning communicates ‘a short time ago’. For example:
- “I’ve just spoken to John.”
- “Have you seen what just happened to the share price?”
- “They had just finished their dinner when the phone rang.”
They go on to say that “just” can also be used in place of the word “only.”
- Can I have just a little bit of cake, please?
- That’s just an excuse.
They also say that “just” is used in a wide variety of informal phrases:
- just a minute = wait
- just about = nearly
- just as well = for the best
- just help yourselves = go ahead
- just so = neat and tidy; precise
The Cambridge Dictionary says we often use “just” to soften expressions especially when making requests. Examples:
Could you just open the window?
I was just wondering if I could speak to you about Anna?
None of these ways of using “just” appears to do any harm and in fact can be clarifying.
Consider however when someone says something like, “I’m just a failure.” “I just seem to mess everything up.” “I just don’t know how to stop taking things so personally.” “I just need to find a way to fix things,” the person Is minimizing their value and abilities.
Someone can use “just” to describe someone else in a way that has similar impact. “She just can’t seem to get her act together.” “She just wants to draw attention to herself by saying things like that.” In each of these statements, “just” can make it seem like it’s no big deal and yet the meta-message, or the one interpreted by someone, can be subtly undercutting the worth and abilities of a person.
Sometimes people hide behind their use of the word “just.” If they made the direct statement– “I don’t know how to stop taking things so personally,” they would be giving more credit to a need they are experiencing than if they said, “ I just don’t know how to stop taking things so personally.”
Other examples: “She just can’t seem to get her act together” “She just wants to draw attention to herself.” If we take the “just” out of these statements, we are better able to appreciate the harshness of what someone is saying.
Again, this may seem subtle and obscure. Do we really need to devote time to cleaning up our act about when and why we use “just” in our sentences? While I don’t think we should become obsessed about this, I think it is beneficial to become aware, to notice that we might be doing harm by inserting “just” in our statements to ourselves and/or to others and to remove “just” in those statements that have the potential to be hurtful.
I have challenged myself to be more “just” sensitive when my use of the word might be minimizing, discounting or negating something or someone. I pass it along to you in case you want to consider the subtleties of our human communication, especially when we may be inadvertently hurting someone.
Invitation for Reflection
- Pause to reflect on the last few conversations you have had with someone. Try to remember exactly what you said and if you included the word “just.” What might have been the impact of that word? What would it have been like to I have not used it?
- Pause to notice your internal conversations and how often you use “just” in ways that might minimize your needs or concerns or issues. Try saying the statements to yourself without the use of the word “just.” How does that change how you feel about yourself?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute