If you try saying something as innocuous as, “I need to do my laundry right now,” it could come out as, “Um, so, I, like, need to, uh, do my, you know, laundry, I mean, right now.”
We would never write the latter sentence, yet such filler words often clog our day-to-day conversations with friends, family and colleagues.
Whether we’re aware we’re using them or not, such speech habits can have negative consequences in our professional environment. Lisa B. Marshall, communication consultant and author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation, calls the words or sounds we insert into our speech credibility killers or verbal viruses.
“When speakers use a lot of this disfluent speech, depending on their audience, it’ll discount what that person has to say and they’ll lose some of their credibility,” Marshall says.
These communication blips are more likely to creep into our verbiage in high-stakes circumstances or situations that require careful word planning, Marshall says. And people certainly don’t want to lose clout as they’re pitching to a client, asking their boss for a raise or navigating a conflict with a colleague.
The good news: There are ways to work on breaking our bad speech habits.
Communication coaches Leah Bonvissuto and Jackie Miller, who co-founded the company Bespoken, say one must recognize his or her speaking patterns before resolving any issues.
Miller recommends listening to a recording of yourself talking in order to pinpoint recurrent problems. Bonvissuto says the easiest way to get rid of filler words is to replace them with something else, like a deep breath or pause of silence.
Miller suggests starting small. Try ordering coffee without using filler words. Or challenge your friends at happy hour—whoever says like first buys the next round.
Um, so, go, like, cut out that, uh, bad habit, you know, right now.