Word Fillers Dilute Your Message

Blog 2021-05-18 Word Fillers

It’s always a joy when I work with great leaders who want to become brilliant ones.

There isn’t a definitive list of what defines great vs. brilliant because the delta is unique for each person. That said, there are foundational characteristics of great leaders which we outline in The LAITHOS Way™. For example, great leaders:

  • are clear on who they are as leaders and are committed to showing up authentically for a positive impact;
  • build trust with others and are extraordinary collaborators;
  • have an outward mindset and are open to others’ perspectives as well as healthy debate;
  • not only have a strategic vision of where their organization needs to go but also inspire people to help make it happen.

When it comes to brilliant leadership, it’s often the little things that make the biggest difference. Lately, one recurring issue with our clients has been verbal “fillers”.  One of the most common is the word “like”, as in … “It’s getting so, like, hot outside now that it’s, like, summertime.”

Although most leaders may not use that particular word, four that I’ve encountered recently are: “you know,” “right”, “um” and “okay.” One executive I know uttered “um” more than 80 times in a 45-minute interview; another routinely ends every sentence with “right?” as if needing to confirm the comment made before the word filler.

The reason for these fillers varies – it can be a way to minimize silence; a bridge to the next thought; a nervous tick. Regardless of the reason, in almost 100% of the cases, the individual is likely unaware of how often the filler word is used … in fact, it’s an unconscious muscle-memory reflex.

Even though fillers may be commonplace, it matters because they diminish the message. In extreme cases, they can give the perception of mindlessness or lack of presence. Bottom line: brilliant leadership will elude anyone whose words dilute their message. And, don’t all leaders want to be impactful with their communications?

This Week’s Challenge: Ask those close to you whether you use any word fillers (assuming you are unaware). Then, ask them to track the number of times you use the filler over the next week. They can stroke count and then share with you after each interaction; or they can raise their hand with permission to interrupt you verbally in the moment so you will know immediately. Once you become aware of the frequency, practice some “recovery” mechanisms:

  • Take a short pause before beginning to speak and use that time to be purposeful in what you want to say;
  • Stroke count the number of times you catch yourself using a word filler – count them up at the end of the day and reflect on the contributing factors;
  • Consider what can you do differently the next day.

Remember, you are starting to make progress just by shortening the time between saying the word and being aware that you said the word.

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