Filler words – 2019 edition

Self-improvement projects that require us to break old habits are hard. Such projects aren’t settled in a few weeks – instead, I think of them as 3 year construction projects.

One of the many gifts I’ve received from writing everyday here for ~11 years is the ability to work on a few such 3 year construction projects. Writing here forces a level of accountability that I’d otherwise not have. But, while I’ve made visible progress on many self improvement projects, an area where I’ve repeatedly failed is in eliminating filler words.

I was in a conversation recently where I thought I used more filler words – “kinda” and “I think” – than actual words. It was disappointing to hear myself stammer and stutter in my attempts to make a point.

As I reflected on that conversation this weekend, I was reminded of a post on the topic from Seth’s blog that inspired me to revisit this habit a few years back. A few of my favorite bits from the post –

“For a million years, people have been judging each other based on voice. Not just on what we say, but on how we say it.

I heard a Pulitzer-prize winning author interviewed on a local radio show. The tension of the interview caused an “um” eruption—your words and your approach sell your ideas, and at least on this interview, nothing much got sold.”

“Persuade yourself that the person you’re talking to will give you the floor, that he won’t jump in the moment you hesitate. You actually don’t have to keep making sounds in order to keep your turn as the speaker. The fastest speaker is not the speaker who is heard best or even most.

Next step: First on your own, eventually practicing with friends, replace the “um” with nothing. With silence.”

“Talk as slowly as you need to. Every time you want to insert a podium-holding stall-for-time word, say nothing instead. Merely pause.”

“You’re not teaching yourself to get rid of “um.” You’re replacing the um with silence. You’re going slow enough that this isn’t an issue.”

“Our default assumption is that people who choose their words carefully are quite smart. Like you.”

Communicating constructively and with clarity is one of my 2019 themes. Unlike in past attempts, I intend to stick with the filler words this time till it gets solved.

Fourth time’s a charm, I hope.

See you in 2022.