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Filler words and phrases do more than fill space. They distract and annoy listeners, making it harder for them to respond positively to what you say. Confident communicators work hard to avoid filler phrases, and their listeners notice.

Speaking Clearly Defines a Confident Communicator

Much advice is available on writing with clarity. Less attention is given to speaking clearly without wasted words. Matthew Royse, who shares his communication advice on Medium, identifies several words and phrases that say little while distracting and sending negative vibes to listeners.

“You only get one chance to make a good first impression,” Royse says. “It’s true because a person will judge you and whether they trust you. Your words matter. What you say and how you say it can undercut yourself, and you can make a bad impression.”

Matthew Royse, who shares views on communication in Medium and elsewhere, makes a strong case for excising filler words and phrases from your speech.

The filler phrases Royse cites are so common they may seem normal to many speakers, even though they are grating turn-offs for many listeners. Worse, Royse suggests using empty, wishy-washy words “makes you sound self-doubting and weak” – the opposite of speaking with clarity.

Topping Royse’s list is the word “just”. “Adding the word ‘just’ to your thoughts doesn’t help your cause. It causes others not to take your ideas seriously.” Royse adds, “When you curb it from your language, you become more assertive and speak more clear and concisely. Remember that being assertive is not being aggressive. You can be polite and direct. When you don’t come across confidently, you waste the other person’s time.”

A key word in a sincere apology, ‘sorry’ is a throwaway word when used casually. It may seem polite, but Royse insists it is confusing and possibly even irritating.

This is a word with a literal meaning, which isn’t how it is typically used in conversation. At best, it’s used instead of “figuratively”. Mostly, it’s used to convey the obvious, as Royse demonstrates with this example, “I literally ate everything on my plate”. Or, even more commonly, to exaggerate – “I literally ate everything on the menu”. In both cases, ‘literally’ is unnecessary and reflects an annoying vocal pattern.

Speaking of annoying, the incessant use of “like” is a widespread verbal infection. Its omnipresence in conversation, even on news shows, makes it the contemporary equivalent of “you know” as an expression that adds nothing except a negative impression of immaturity. For some speakers, the pattern is so ingrained that it will take a huge effort and persistent discipline to avoid its use.

Um (ah, er
These nonwords are verbal space-fillers. Speakers mutter them as they search for the next word or thought. Royse advises developing the habit of pausing to create a natural break without unintentionally conveying uncertainty or a lack of personal confidence with filler nonwords. “You become a more desirable person to talk to,” Royse says, “when you master the power of the pause” – and when you teach yourself to stop “umming” around.

I Think
Prefacing remarks with “I think” subordinates your main point to a meaningless phrase. The thoughts you express are yours, even if what you say is thoughtless. “I believe” has more utility as a way of signaling conviction, according to Royse, but still unneeded in most situations. Listeners appreciate direct speech and clear points. If they are listening to you, they already assume they are listening to what you think.

Kind of Like
Royse refers to “kind of like” as a random throw-in. If taken literally by a listener, the phrase “kind of like” raises a question of what the subject is actually like. Royse offers an example of how the phrase injects uncertainty into what you say, “I kind of played sports in college.” Does that mean you were on a team or just a water boy? Why not just say, “I played football in college.” That will make the relevance to the conversation clear.

Does That Make Sense?
This is a filler typically used after making a point. Royse believes it reflects self-doubt more than concern about listener comprehension. “If you don’t believe you made sense, you probably didn’t,” he says. “This phrase shows the other person you don’t know what you are saying. Perhaps you know what you are saying, but saying this phrase shows others that you are weak, uncertain and doubt yourself.”

“You only get one chance to make a good first impression. What you say and how you say it can undercut that first impression.”

Training to Dump Filler Phrases
Using filler phrases when you speak is a habit – and for a professional communicator, a bad habit. You can take steps to break the habit. It starts with admitting these are bad habits, committing to stop using them and striving to become a confident communicator.

One approach suggests filming yourself speaking. It might be easier and less stilted to have a friend or fellow worker film you when you are speaking to a client. Gather two or three samples to examine for filler words and phrases. That will show what habits you need to break.

Practice the same or similar speeches while concentrating on eliminating pesky filler phrases. Film those, too, so you see the difference – or the persistence of a bad habit. Keep at it. Don’t be afraid to seek advice or a friendly “coach”.

For those who think it is okay to keep saying what you’re saying, you’re kidding yourself. You can pigeonhole yourself and limit your professional options. As important as good writing is to a professional communicator, they are most often judge by how well they speak.

Confident Communicator

There are rewards for speaking clearly. Audiences can grasp what you say with ease, enhancing prospects they will respond positively to your message. Speaking with clarity also enhances your reputation as a confident communicator – someone people can understand and trust to deliver a message with impact.

Like all forms of communication, clear speaking is not accidental. Disposing of verbal deadwood requires self-awareness, practice and discipline. Record yourself talking to a colleague or client and listen for your filler phrases. Most of us have them unless you consciously practice scrubbing them from your vocabulary for being communication killers.