5 Verbal Habits That Undermine You

When we spend time with people, at work or personally, we start to notice their speech habits.  Sometimes it drives us nuts, like the American that says “Awesome” when it isn’t, the teen that says “Whatever” in answer to everything or the person who throws in “I mean…” as a junction to every sentence.

I was talking to a woman who had a pleasant, although slightly confusing habit. When she was sharing her thought, she would interrupt herself to say “…and you’re right.” and continue on with her thought. I had no idea what I was right about but I felt nice.

In the last few months I’ve found myself noticing verbal habits that I’m certain are holding people back.  They are things people toss in completely unconsciously, but they deter from the image of professionalism and experience that they’d like to portray.

5 Habits to watch for
Here are 5 things I hear, that you might want to watch for in your own speech.

1.  “It’s difficult”
It would surprise you the number of people who use this as their filler while they think.  When asked a question like “What do you think he expected?” they answer “It’s difficult, maybe he thought…”

When “It’s difficult” or a version like it pops up several times in a conversation, the listener begins to doubt this person’s ability to solve problems.  The irony is they often follow it with a good answer but it is already tainted by the sense that they are finding it a struggle and would rather walk away from the issue.

If you hear yourself using the word “difficult” fairly often, try something neutral like “It’s interesting…”   that makes you sound considered and that you’re contemplating the options.

2.  “The problem is…”
Similar to the one above, when someone peppers their conversation with “The problem is, the company…”  “The problem is, Bob isn’t willing to…”  “The problem is, you can’t count on the trains…” it all sounds like you’re laying the blame.

Even though you are outlining something perfectly rational, it sounds like you are pointing the finger and skidding away from any responsibility in solving the problem.

Again, if you tune into your own verbal habits, see if you can hear yourself using this regularly.  There are lots of substitutions that will make you sound like a team player and someone who wants to find a solution. That’s the cooperation that will move you up in your company.

3.  A stream of conscious
People who think out loud often get respect because they can think on their feet and respond quickly.  All that respect goes out the window when they share every thought, change direction and get muddled.

You only get credit for thinking out loud if you can be concise and stay on track.  We are all impressed with that person who finds it easy to answer questions to a group.  They have the ability to deliver the answer they know or offer to find out and report back.  Sometimes they hand the subject back to the questioner so they can share their thoughts. It’s impressive.

On the other hand, if people are gazing at the table, squirming in their chair and trying to interrupt, you’ve gone on too long.

All external thinkers benefit from pausing for just a moment, gathering their thoughts and being concise.

4.  Drifting off at the end
I do a lot of interview prep for people before they go for their dream job.  I regularly hear them answer a question strongly and then dribble on until they stall out.  Sometimes people try to offer more explanation and take themselves completely off track.  You’ve lost your hard won point when this happens.

I was working with one woman whose voice sounded firm and strong at the beginning of her conversation but then got softer until I struggled to hear her.  I asked what was happening and she said she didn’t want to sound aggressive.  As a result she sounded hesitant and unsure.

Have the courage of your convictions.  If you have something to add use a confident voice even if you don’t feel too sure. If people have to strain to hear you they will discount what you are saying.  They won’t believe you are confident enough to make your suggestion happen.

When you’ve made your point, don’t be afraid to put in a full stop, continuing on rarely strengths your statement.

5.  UpSpeak or UpTalk
This is the habit of letting your voice slide up at the end of your sentences.  It makes everything you say sound like a bit of a question.

People often can’t hear this in their own speech.  If you hear it in the people around you it is very likely you are doing it too. Ask someone you trust to listen out for it in your conversations.  It will show up in your unguarded moments.

A Pearson survey of 700 managers came up with this overwhelming conclusion when they were asked what they thought of the habit of UpTalk:
85% said they believed UpTalk indicates insecurity
70% said they found it a particularly annoying trait
57% confirmed it has potential to damage professional credibility

This is just a habit and it is easy to change.  If you are doing this, get it on your radar and shift your intonation so you are making statements and not asking for approval.

Don’t let little things hold you back
All of these speech patterns are habit. We pick up things subconsciously from our family, our peers and sometimes from TV or a presenter we admire.

The first two listed are often our way of setting expectations for the person listening.  We are stepping away from ownership of what we’re about to say.

Whatever form these things shows up in, it dents your professional demeanour.

People want someone that is willing to tackle the problems, work around the difficulties and offer potential solutions.

And they’d like you to do it with conviction.  Go give it to them.


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