He walks into an interview and introduces himself, “Hi I am um Lem like it’s great to have the opportunity to be here. Actually, you know I am surprised I was asked to come in”.
Ridiculous, that can’t happen in real life! Are you sure? Our habits of speech become so ingrained that we are not even aware of what we say. You intend to convey meaning and often do not realize what words you are saying. Give yourself a minute to think, when is the last time you chose your words impeccably?
Filler words or expressions are automatic and unconscious responses in spoken language. They are used to fill spaces or gaps in speaking. Here are some familiar words in the American English colloquial:
- Okay, Like, So
- Uh, Um
- Basically, Actually, Right
- Totally, Literally, Clearly
- You know, You see
- “I don’t know”
You rarely see these words in writing, in the same manner, they are spoken. The question is, are they appropriate in your professional life? Most of us know that when we are making a presentation, we need to “watch” what we say and practice our talk, to ensure that we do not allow these fillers to get into our presentation. What about all the other spoken communication that you have with superiors, peers, vendors, customers, or even when networking at events? What impression are you leaving?
To be honest, given that many of these fillers are so common, others may not even notice the use of these fillers. However, I believe, the last filler is a bit more noticeable: “I don’t know”.
How often do you say “I don’t know”? Today, the response, “I don’t know”, is as common as any filler phrase. There is a difference. “I don’t know” is a statement, not just a filler. Said consciously or unconsciously, you are making a statement.
Formal —used to say that one does not have the information someone is asking for “What time does the library close?” “I don't know.”
Informal —used to express disagreement, doubt, or uncertainty “I don't like that guy.” “Oh, I don't know, he's not really so bad.” She thinks we should go now, but I don't know. Maybe we should wait. Merriam Webster
As a coach, I ask a lot of questions. Many times, I receive the response “I don’t know”, without hesitation. Is the person really saying they don’t know, or is it an automatic response? It is difficult to know for sure. A pattern emerges over the course of a conversation that leads you to assume the person may just be responding automatically.
The problem is why they are responding automatically. Is it out of laziness? Do they assume this response will provide them with an answer to the question? I am not sure I will ever know the real answer. So I did some research. I came across an article titled 4 phrases that are better than I don’t know in INC magazine. It is a short article and I recommend taking a moment to read.
The bottom line is, learn to notice your utilization of fillers; especially “I don’t know”. Becoming aware of your habits, while with your friends will spill over into your professional life. Do you want to give others the same impression I get when I ask a question and hear “I don’t know”? What is the value of your professional presence if you reframe your speech habits to remove fillers, especially “I don’t know”?
Are you willing to try? The first step is noticing your patterns. Not just in a professional setting. If you can notice your current speech habits, you have the opportunity to choose an alternative. Even if you don’t have a replacement; silence is always a better alternative.
I would be honored to help you learn to improve your professional presence. Remember when you rise, you raise those around you to be a better version of themselves. Please contact me for a consultation.