Zapping Verbal Tics

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Melody Wilding of Forbes writes a good article about how to communicate more professionally at work, but its title fails to do it justice. Wilding's "Ban These Words From Your Vocabulary to Sound More Confident at Work" does indeed cover some words and phrases, but it also discusses other ways people (usually women) undermine their own professional credibility when speaking or writing. Here's an example of a common practice that I find particularly annoying, even in a non-professional setting:

"That is like, so great!"

Talking like Shoshanna from Girls -- using habits like uptalk or using "Valley girl" jargon -- can distract your audience from what you're saying. A common indicator of this "vocal fry" [sic] is raising your voice at the end of statements. This can indicate uncertainty, make you appear hesitant, and create a lack of trust among your audience. The solution isn't to learn to talk like a man, but to find ways to communicate more clearly so that your language habits don't detract from your message.

How to Quit: Try this technique called kinesthetic anchoring: hold one arm straight out in front of you. Begin reading aloud from a book or magazine. Whenever you reach a period, lower your arm down to your side, and drop your pitch at the same time. Your arm movement will trigger your voice to mimic its drop. [first link added, second in original]
I have a tendency to notice things like this spreading in the culture, even as many seem to obliviously adopt them through psychological mirroring. And yes, a decade after I first noticed this, my mind still responds with something like, "That's not a question," or "Why do you feel the need to make an emotional bond?", or "Can't what you say stand on its own?" I try to get past this, but the author is correct that it imposes more cognitive work on the audience when the goal is to have it concentrate on what is being said.

My satisfaction at seeing someone point out an annoying practice and, better yet, motivate and prescribe a cure, is far outweighed by the fact that I found the rest of the article thought-provoking and, yes, useful. I would add that the question, "Does that make sense?" can, though well-intended, also come across as a dig that a point should be obvious. And I myself have to watch out for qualifying things I say. I think the piece is well worth a read.

-- CAV

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