Rid Yourself of Damaging Word-Habits!

by Stephanie Bickel

Perhaps you have convinced yourself that your speech is not a problem. You are getting by fine because you can hide behind email and supervisors or managers. Perhaps, you have continued to advance in your career despite your less than eloquent elocution. Why have you procrastinated this work? Clearly people with excellent phrasing and superior vocabularies are impressive. Why wouldn’t you want to join their leagues and meet a new level of success in your career? Here are some quick-tips that will elevate your elocution immensely.

1. Eliminate the Digestive Noises: Um and Ah and Uh!

Listen to yourself and others. Everyone is doing it. Let the habit annoy and frustrate you in all who do it. This is the first step to changing the habit. Find out why you are doing it. Are you trying to signal to your audience that you still have the floor? Are you off-gliding on your consonants like, “I am, and-UH he is.” If this is a habit of yours, strive to accept silence and final consonant endings. Be comfortable with the silence and resume speaking when the thought is there. People who use “um” to illustrate their thought process appear less sure and less knowledgeable. If they knew what they were saying, they would not stall with “um.”

2. SORTA, KINDA!

Eliminate the approximators, “sort of” and “kind of.” These words make you appear less than sure of your ideas. If you are less than sure, call it an approximation. Never use these approximators in this format, “I sort of think we should wait.” This is passive language. It shows weakness! If this is a habit of yours, determine if there is an environment where this language is appropriate. Monitor your usage of these phrases and eliminate the inappropriate usage. A true leader would never use such weak language.

3. Stop the stalling and clarifying!

“Basically…,” “My Point is…,” “What I’m Trying to Say is…” Reduce the use of stallers and clarifiers. The easiest way to annoy an audience is to tell them through your language usage that you were wasting their time prior to this point. Long-winded speakers without a point often use these phrases. Audiences tune out and become hostile when they hear them. Monitor your usage and abusage.

4. SCRAM GET!

Reduce the GET in your language! You sound like you have never seen a college entrance exam. GET is a rough word that lacks all finesse. It is neither a motivator nor a seller! Observe your speaking to determine if this is a habit of yours. By substituting other words for GET, you polish your image dramatically! Write down the phrases you use that involve GET. Write out alternatives for them. Post a note on your desk of your GET habits reminding you to substitute words like obtain, acquire, gather, find, and retrieve for GET.

5. Reduce the JUST – Addiction

“I JUST thought it would be good to have a meeting.” “I JUST don’t think that’s right.” “I JUST thought I would add another point.” “It JUST doesn’t make sense.” What does the excess use of JUST signal? An excuse! I call it the whiney-excuse word. People who feel threatened or weak, use JUST. It is not the language of someone in a position of power.

6. Avoid Absolutes!

Do you prefer absolutes when conveying your ideas? “This software always works.” “That firm never executes on time.” When using absolutes, you are asking to be proved wrong. Substitute often for always and rarely for never. In sales professions, it may be appropriate to use absolutes. Telling a customer that “This price is often lower than competitors’ prices” will probably not give you the sale. If you are in sales, use absolutes sparingly so you do not diminish their weight.

7. Reduce Failure

Everyone makes mistakes, but the language experts know how to present them. Be cautious describing your failures or mistakes to others. Avoid the following words: wrong, mistake, and failure. Those are strong words that people can attach to their perception of you. Substitute those with: experienced growing pains, achieved limited success, misstep, mischaracterization, or fell short of expectations. Take some time to write out a plan for how you will handle your next misstep.

8. Leave High School Slang Behind

“That sucks.” “That’s awesome.” “Cool!” “Wicked!” “Cheesy.” “What a tool!” “Like… no.” The older and more established you are, the more charming it is to use such phrases – but do it SPARINGLY. An older executive using “cool” can be charming. Otherwise, eliminate the slang of yesterday! A younger professional using high school slang will appear less than experienced, less than mature, and less than articulate. Find substitutes for your habit words!

9. Stop the Excessive MM-HM

Do you have the need to show your agreement and attention by excessive head bobbing and humming agreement? This is an acceptable tool at a minimum. However, as a habit, it is distracting and reduces your power. Using excessive agreement in conversation gives your power away! Although you are putting your colleague at ease, the colleague may become too comfortable with you. Put all this agreement energy in your eyes! That will show your colleague that he has your attention, but you will maintain the power in the conversation.

10. Stop bullying for support.

“Y’know?” “You know what I mean?” These are bullying phrases. People who abuse these phrases are seeking to gain instant support for poorly explained ideas. Instead of properly describing ideas or motivating others, these abusers care more about the ends versus the means. These people miss details and offend listeners who feel bullied into agreement. People who use these phrases tend to race through details and to lack patience and focus. This habit is an enormous turn-off to an audience.

Copyright Stephanie Bickel, Ltd.

Stephanie Bickel is an image consultant for Speak by Design. Private and group instruction is available for individuals, couples, and organizations interested in improving speech, presence, and creativity. Speak by Design offers courses for accent reduction, vocal development, power presence, team building, and stage fright. Visit www.speakbydesign.com for more information.