A few weeks ago, I was transcribing an interview for a case study I’m writing in my day job when I noticed how much I say “sort of.” We usually hire an outside service to transcribe our interviews, so it’s not often I have to listen to my voice on a recording. And it. Was. Painful. “I love listening to recordings of myself,” said no one EVER. (It turns out there is actual science behind the fact that we don’t like to hear our own voices. It has to do with the vibrations that occur in our bodies when we speak. They make our voices sound deep and smooth, and we lose that filter when we hear ourselves in a recording or some other external source.)
As uncomfortable as it was, hearing my recorded voice helped me identify verbal fillers like “sort of” that distract from, downplay or dilute what I’m trying to say. I realized that saying “sort of” has become a mindless habit, and it doesn’t add anything to what I’m saying. It’s a hedging tactic — a way of protecting myself from fully owning what I’m about to say, or from having to fully form the thought before I start communicating it.
Similar to emotional labor, women are more likely than men to use tentative speech forms (or “hedges”). One communications expert noted that unless you already have an incredible reputation, using fillers can make you seem less credible. To top it off, they can be confusing to the listener. If someone says, “I sort of feel like we should have this done by next week,” what does that actually mean? Do we need to have it done by next week or not?
So I’m working on expunge “sort of” from my vocabulary, and it’s hard! Something I’m experimenting with is being more mindful of when I use it and considering why I’m using it. So if I hear myself say “sort of,” I make a mental note that I did, then ask myself, “What about this situation made me say it?’” My sense is that in most cases I’m either subconsciously using it to disguise a lack of confidence, or because I’m unfocused and trying to buy time while I organize my thoughts.
The other thing I’m doing is interrupting myself and trying again. When I speak with close friends or colleagues and realize I’ve said it, I stop and repeat what I just said but without “sort of.” I do this sparingly so that it’s not disruptive, and only in casual conversation (i.e., I’m not interrupting presentations or important meetings to call out my use of “sort of”). It took practice to form this habit, so I figure practice is part of how I’m going to undo it.
Are there words or phrases you’re trying to minimize or eliminate from your vocabulary? What’s working, and what hasn’t?