Ditch Your Verbal Crutches for Clearer Communication

                                By Chelse Benham

“Jargon is a paras...
in listeners and they unnecessarily prolong sentences. Some common hedges

•   'In my opinion, I think we sho...
gather your thoughts while giving the listener time to reflect on what you have
just said.

3. Record the voicemail messag...
professionals have voices that command attention and move people to action.
The following tips will help you to develop th...
and refrain from leaning on verbal crutches that weaken your communication.
Remember the wise adage, “Less is more.” Throw...
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Ditch your verbal crutch for clearer communication


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Ditch your verbal crutch for clearer communication

  1. 1. Ditch Your Verbal Crutches for Clearer Communication By Chelse Benham “Jargon is a parasitic growth: It gathers on the limbs of thought like Spanish moss on Charleston oaks; it does not altogether conceal, but it softens, disguises and blurs.” – James J. Kilpatrick, syndicated columnist Verbal crutches, fillers, hedges and qualifiers are used to hold a thought, capriciously expressed and said without conveying any real meaning. They clutter communication and may prevent the listener from focusing on the message. When someone uses speech fillers repeatedly, it is noticed by others. It often becomes the only thing that is noticed and ultimately, the only thing that is heard. According to Dr. George McLemore, associate professor in the Department of Communication at The University of Texas-Pan American, there are “two necessary conditions to clear speaking, both publicly and interpersonally.” He advices the following principals: 1. Have something worthwhile to say; know the specifics of important issues whether those issues are personal, local, national or international. Dysfluency often results from simply "having nothing worthwhile to say." And we, as speakers, on some level, know when we are speaking about substantive issues, and that knowledge motivates us, enables us to speak clearly. 2. Know what it is you are trying to talk about. The dysfluencies very often result from the simple (but important) fact of not knowing the subject adequately. Names, dates, places, facts, historical anecdotes and stories, when woven into conversations (or speeches), demonstrate that knowledge and speaker knows it, feels it, and thereby is less likely to need the crutch or filler. Some people express themselves easily and succinctly allowing their words to carry weight and purpose. Others become tongue-tied under pressure. Saying “um” or “ah” can feel better, than saying nothing at all. However, a pause here and there can be a welcomed relief; it gives the speaker a chance to gather his or her thoughts, and the listener a chance to digest all that’s been said. Jacqueline Farrington, professional voice specialist at Yale University, categorizes three of the most affected areas of verbal communication into hedges, qualifiers and fillers. These are found at www.transactionworld.com Hedges appear at the beginning of statements. They avoid the risk of commitment by leaving open a way of retreat for the speaker. They create doubt
  2. 2. in listeners and they unnecessarily prolong sentences. Some common hedges include: • 'In my opinion, I think we should.....' • 'Basically...' • 'I just think, feel, wonder, etc.' The key to eliminating hedges is to ask yourself, 'Are these words essential? Do they add useful information to what I am saying?' If in doubt, leave them out. Remove any word that does not add useful information. Qualifiers alter the strength or the meaning of what has been said by questioning the validity of the statement. They appear as 'tags' after a sentence and will turn clear statements of fact into feeble questions. Qualifiers take three forms: verbal, vocal or physical. Common verbal qualifiers include: • ‘This is the best product, isn't it?’ • ‘This is a great idea, don't you think?’ • ‘We had a wonderful time, right?’ • ‘I don't want to go there again for lunch, do y'know what I mean?’ Physical qualifiers - shrugging the shoulders, casting the eyes to the floor or rolling them to the ceiling, flicking the hand away from the body - weaken our statements by using apologetic or submissive gestures after a sentence. Fillers are sounds, words, or phrases used to fill pauses when speaking. They create an impression of a lack of confidence by making the speaker sound hesitant, halting and uncertain of what to say next. They are usually spoken when silence is felt and there is fear that interruption might take place. Silence, when properly applied, communicates power and control. Dynamic speakers do not need to apologize for taking the time to consider their words. They know the importance of well-timed silences. Common fillers include: • 'Um...' • 'Uh....' In her article, “How to Cure the ‘Verbal Virus’ A Five-Step Treatment Plan,” Susan Berkley, author of “Speak to Influence: How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Your Voice” outlines a means for breaking poor speaking habits. 1. Diagnose the problem – Since verbal viruses are unconscious, the only way you'll hear them is on tape. Record a few of your phone calls on a typical business day to quickly determine if you are suffering from a verbal virus infection. 2. Pause – Whenever you catch yourself saying a non-word, just stop talking. Say nothing. This gap of silence will feel scary at first, but if the pause is no longer than five seconds, the listener will scarcely notice. A pause will help you
  3. 3. gather your thoughts while giving the listener time to reflect on what you have just said. 3. Record the voicemail messages you leave for others – Listen to them at the end of the day and note whether or not unwanted fillers have crept into your messages. 4. Enlist the help of a friend or spouse – Explain what you are trying to do and invent a code word he or she can use every time you use a filler word. The constant reminder will help you break the habit fast. 5. Take a breath – When you feel you are about to use a non-word, take a breath, hold it for a moment and then begin to speak. The focus on your breathing will occupy your mind, keep you calm and centered and make the silence between the words seem much less scary. According to Terrence Moore, author of “Today’s Youth Need Standards of Study and of Speaking” at ashbrook.org “Young people today are particularly in need of standards of speech. Their conversation ranges from the sloppy to the vulgar. In today’s young person’s lexicon, everything is either ‘cool’ or ‘it sucks.’ This nation is faced with a growing inarticulateness.” Some other words and phrases most commonly abused by young people are: “Like” – For example: “I was, like, so impressed with your company’s Website.” “You know” (or You know what I'm sayin') – For example: “Working while putting myself through college was both challenging and, you know, rewarding.” “Young people are often still developing their social and verbal skills so it is common for them to use verbal crutches. They often use jargon in order to identify with their peer group and set themselves apart from ‘adults,’” Dr. Dora Saavedra, associate professor in the Department of Communication at UTPA said. “In addition, a young person who speaks in a more adult fashion is sometimes subjected to teasing and ridicule. It’s easier then for them to adapt to the speaking norms of the peer group. I try to teach students about impression management. I tell them that the way they speak to their friends is not necessarily the way they should speak in public. Sometimes, young students do not make that distinction whereas older students have learned that already.“ In her article, “Top 7 Tips For Developing The Voice That Wins” by Dr. June Johnson, communication and speech specialist, Johnson gives a concrete strategy to breaking any verbal crutch and poor speaking habit. ”The voice is your most powerful means of communication. How you hear yourself is not necessarily how others hear you,” Johnson writes. “Successful
  4. 4. professionals have voices that command attention and move people to action. The following tips will help you to develop the voice of authority.” 1. Breathe from the diaphragm – the foundation of effective speech. It is the power behind the voice that gives it depth and authority and increases your ability to project. It also helps control nerves and keeps the voice from rising in pitch when under stress. 2. Articulate your consonants. A recent Gallup Poll listed mumbling as the most annoying habit of speech. Consonants are what make speech intelligible, the "bread and butter" of speech. If people have to work to understand what you're saying, they'll stop listening. 3. Use inflection. The voice has a natural range of five to eight tones that give the voice vitality, add color and interest to what you're saying. 4. Pronounce all syllables. You will sound more professional when you do. Missing syllables make for sloppy, lazy speech. Avoid pronunciations such as "innernet," "comtuble," "inneresing," "gummint," "reglar," "secetary," etc.. Avoid dropping the “ing” off of words. 5. Keep the vocal energy flowing. Energy is the key word to speaking effectively. Fading away or dropping ends of sentences will leave the listener in the dark. If the point is important enough to be made, it's important enough to be heard. 6. Tape yourself. Learn to know your voice. Once you've identified the habits you want to eliminate you'll be on the road to developing habits that will make you an effective speaker. As with anything else, it is possible to improve how you speak. 7. Talk to or with people, not at them. No one likes to be assaulted by a voice that's loud or abrasive. The pleasant, well-modulated voice will accomplish far more than the voice that overwhelms. Authors, Dorothy U. Seyler and Carol J. Boltz, write in their book, “Language Power,” about the power of articulation and well constructed speech: “We do not know our purposes until we endow them with words; do not, indeed, know ourselves. The pleasure you will feel as you develop your vocabulary is not solely the pleasure that comes with increased power; it is also the greater pleasure that comes with increased knowledge, especially of yourself.” Be master over your speech. Expand your vernacular to include colorful adjectives and action verbs that express how you truly think and feel. Don’t clutter your message with petty words generically and generously used in every sentence or stutter noises to hold your train of thought. While you are actively listening to others choose to do the same for yourself. Listen to how you speak
  5. 5. and refrain from leaning on verbal crutches that weaken your communication. Remember the wise adage, “Less is more.” Throw away the verbal riffraff and get straight to the meaning of things. “The more words one has at his command, the greater the possibility that he may be his own master.” – Seyler and Boltz, “Language Power”