Five verbal habits that irritate the hell out of your listeners

When it comes to communicating effectively in media interviews and at meetings we are often our worst enemies. A potentially cogent and powerful argument is undermined by pointless, repetitive and largely unconscious verbal habits that irritate the hell out of our listeners and work against impactful communication. Here are five of the worst offences:

Starting a live media interview with ‘thank you for having me’.

This is not the first time I have blogged about this cringeworthy response, but people continue to produce it so the point merits repetition. This kind of tea-party politeness not only wastes the valuable time you could have spent making your biggest killer point but also shifts the power balance of the interview towards your interlocutor. In effect you are saying ‘humble little me feels really grateful and to be invited to talk to someone as important as you’. How do you expect anyone to respect what you say after that?

Beginning an answer with ‘So…’

As a regular listener to BBC Radio 4 I am staggered by the number of interviewees who kick off their responses with ‘So…’. This little word has lots of uses according to dictionary definitions. The two main ones are as an adverb (‘She looked so pretty’, ‘It’s not so bad’) and a conjunction (‘I was worried, so I consulted a specialist’; ‘I was late so I took a taxi’.). But nowhere is ‘so’ recommended as a preamble to getting your thoughts in order. Instead, pause, take a breath, and say something compelling.

Protesting too much with adverbs

If you are falsely accused of something does it help your case if you deny it ‘categorically’ or ‘absolutely’ or ‘in the strongest possible terms’? To my mind denial is an absolute which is not subject to qualification. Either you did it or you didn’t. Reinforcing that denial with an adverb simply ramps up the emotion rather than proving your case.

Prefacing a factual statement with a qualifier

When you are communicating it is vital to distinguish between fact and opinion. As the late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said: ‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts’. While it is reasonable, indeed necessary, to preface an opinion with qualifiers like ‘I believe’, ‘I think’ or even ‘I feel’, it is not a good idea to do the same with facts. Statement like ‘I believe the earth is round’ or ‘I feel very strongly that the sun will rise tomorrow’ only serve to introduce doubt and uncertainty. If you know something to be true, state it without qualification.

Overuse of filler words

Nature abhors a vacuum and most speakers hate to leave even a second of airtime unfilled. So instead of pausing between sentences, they pepper their speech with meaningless filler words and phrases like ‘well’, ‘okay’, ‘you know’, ‘like’, ‘right’ and even the dreaded ‘so’. People are generally completely unaware of this until you point it out or they watch themselves on video. I know this because I am guilty too. Recently, and for the first time, I watched a recording of one of my training sessions and found, to my horror, that I never actually finished a thought and let it settle. Instead I said ‘and’ – and moved seamlessly on to the next thought. Having observed this fault, I am now working on stamping it out. Filler words are exactly as they sound – a waste of time and space. Join me in purging them from your spoken communication.

How Clearsay can help

Clearsay Communications works with business and thought leaders around the world to develop their spoken communication skills for use in presentations, media interviews, meetings and negotiations. Contact us today to explore what we could do for you.