The word “like” has invaded our speaking the same way the kudzu has invaded the South. Just listen in on anyone’s conversation on the subway, especially if they’re under 30, and you’ll see what I mean. Just as kudzu does, it wends its way in to the sentence until it blankets it and the original meaning is practically lost. “It’s, like, the best movie I’ve, like, seen, like in a long time. You should go see it, it’ll, like, y’know, blow your mind.”
This has recently come to my attention in a more forceful way than before because a friend has asked me to let him know when he is using “like,” “y’know,” “uh,” and other “nonwords” so that he can improve his speaking skills. I decided to take on the same challenge. The list of nonwords and its close cousin, filler words, has proven to be never ending. We’ve since expanded our radar to include “Ok, so,” “know what I mean?” and “does that make sense?”It has become so common place that we become nearly unconscious to it. We often have to ask each other when the offending word even was.
In her excellent book “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” Lois Frankel writes that “Nonwords are habitual sounds and phrases you use to fill up silence. When they infuse your speech, they make you sound unsure or hesitant. ” She continues, “Becoming conscious of those credibility busters can be the toughest part of changing the habit.” Reading this made me wonder how I’m perceived when I speak – not just in front of an audience, but even in casual, day to day, conversations. Do people hear “like, y’know” and write me off as less credible or even incompetent? And further still, is my reliance upon these unnecessary nonwords simply a vestige of being insecure?
I invite you to take this on as a challenge to yourself – to recognize how much your language influences what people think about you and how they hear your message, and fight the impulse to pepper your speech with nonwords. Ms. Frankel recommends recording or videotaping your conversations and then playing them back. I’ve also found that slowing my speech down is an effective way to give myself time to catch myself before saying those nonwords.
Something I’ve noticed is that when someone asks me a question, I often start my answer with “Ummm…” It is my way of letting them know that I’ve heard them and am thinking about the answer. However, starting now I will take Ms. Frankel’s sound piece of advice to, “become comfortable with silence – it can be a powerful tool in your communications.”