By Sarah Schmalbruch
Most people don’t realize how they sound to others.
The words you choose could hurt your credibility without you even knowing it.
An obvious one is “like,” but there are less obvious words and phrases that might be tripping you up.
We spoke with Carmen Fought, a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College, and Deborah Tannen, author of “Talking From 9 To 5: Women and Men at Work” and a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, to find out which words undermine your credibility, why we use them, and how we can stop.
Hedges: “Sort of,” “kind of,” “pretty much,” and “maybe”
Tannen says these are the words you use when you don’t want to say something outright.
According to Fought, using hedges may make you seem less confident, which can be especially detrimental at work. “We don’t want someone working for our company who is so insecure and who won’t be able to make decisions because they’re paralyzed with self-doubt,” she says.
Intensifiers: “Really,” “definitely,” “absolutely,” and “totally”
According to Fought, overusing these can have the opposite effect of intensifying. “It weakens your credibility in some ways because if you have to tell us how really, really, really great this trip was, maybe it wasn’t that great,” she says.
Tannen says intensifiers can also make a speaker seem overly dramatic. “You run into the risk of seeming to be so over-the-top that you lose credibility for another reason,” she says. “You seem to be exaggerating; you seem hysterical.”
Fillers: “Like,” “um,” “er,” and “ah”
Fought refers to these words – or sounds – as “discourse markers.” “It’s a little word that we use to buy time or space, and it’s really common,” she says.
Tannen says fillers are automatic in our speech and are present in every language. “We all have automatic ticks when we speak,” she says. “There’s an impulse to put something in that space when you stop [talking].”
If you’re starting a majority of your sentences with “sorry,” you may want to put an end to that habit. According to Fought, constantly saying “sorry” can cause employers to question your abilities. “You don’t want someone who is so overly apologetic for everything that you feel like they’re not going to take ownership of their ideas,” she says.
We want to sound like our friends, so we use words they use.
Why we use them
While we might think we’re having great, deep conversations, the truth is much of what we say is meaningless. “A large percentage of the words we use don’t mean anything,” Fought explains. “We spend a lot of time talking in ways that… read further at the link below:
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