“If thought corrupts language, then language can also corrupt thought.”
— George Orwell
My last post was all about leadership and communication; specifically, how sloppy presentation skills can undermine a leader’s credibility and influence. But communication goes beyond public speaking. The fact is, your everyday language–the words and phrases you use in ordinary conversation–has a similar impact on how people perceive you. If you pay attention to the words and phrases that come out of your mouth in routine conversations, chances are you’ll notice a few that could be limiting your clarity, impact, and effectiveness.
Here are eight common language faux pas’ to avoid.
Hedges: Phrases like kind of, sort of, possibly, I think, etc. that dilute the impact of a statement are known as hedges. They serve no purpose other than adding clutter to your speech. The more you can rid yourself of these pesky intruders to concise communication, the better.
Hesitations: Also known as “filler words” like uhm, oh, and er are among the most common powerless words. Often, they are so ingrained in people’s speech, they are difficult to remove. But you’ll be surprised at the clarity you will gain if you can, if not eliminate them, at least reduce how much you them. The key is to slow down your pace of speech.
Just. I wouldn’t be surprised if “just” ranks right behind “like” as the most overused word in the English language. The problem with just–“I’m just saying” or “I just want to follow up”–is makes you come across as defensive, and in so doing, saps much of the strength and conviction in your communication.
Basically. While this commonly used adverb at the beginning of a sentence may not seem like much of an issue, in reality, it’s completely unnecessary. (I almost wrote “basically unnecessary!”) Just say what you intend to say instead of weakening your point with this tired expression.
Tag Questions: I am frequently guilty of this, saying something like “Does that make sense?” or “Do you know what I mean?” implying that I was unclear. Like “basically,” tag questions add nothing of substance to your point. If you really want to know if the person/people you’re speaking to understand your point, then try asking a direct clarifying question, such as “What are your thoughts?” or “Tell me what you think.”
Deflections. These are what I call ” verbal buck passers” and include statements like, ‘I feel like…’, ‘I’m wondering if…’, ‘It seems to me…” or “It’s only my opinion, but…” Again, you may question why I prosecute such seemingly innocuous phrases, but as John Stonestreet says on his popular social commentary podcast, The Point, “(Deflectors) serve to dumb us down, pretending every argument is just a hunch we have.” To me, it’s a back door way of absolving yourself of responsibility for your position instead of fully engaging with someone.
Qualifiers: Whenever you insert an adjective or adverb in front of a word or sentence to soften it, you’re using a qualifier. Example:”I’m not completely sure, but…” or “Honestly speaking…” Once again, just say what needs to be said instead of diluting your point.
Intensifiers: Also known as superlatives, words like really, totally, or absolutely, if you’re not careful, can easily become redundant, watering down the strength of what you want to say. Example: “I am totally looking forward to having a really good time this weekend.” Like sugar and caffeine, be careful to use intensifiers only in moderation.
Remember, your communication shapes your personal brand. If you’re serious about presenting the best possible version of yourself to the world every day, then pay close attention to your everyday language.
Which of these common language faux pas’ do you most identify with in your everyday communication? Are there any others that you notice or struggle with?