I’m trying to stop saying “sort of” and it’s really hard

Have you ever, sort of, noticed how much you use verbal fillers? Amy listened to a recording of herself and is working on making her speech more meaningful.
Avoid filler words!
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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?

8 thoughts on “I’m trying to stop saying “sort of” and it’s really hard

  1. I try to have an accountability partner at work call me out during informal meetings to help me reach this goal…or pull me aside after a meeting to give me the feedback (but in the moment is best!).

  2. In my experience, using words like this is less about being sloppy and more about being afraid to fully own an idea or statement.

    It’s similar to up talk (ending a sentence so that it sounds like a question), in my own emotional experience of both. For example, when people ask me where I work, I often say “indeed?” which is CRAZY because there is only one answer to that question. But there’s something in me that holds back from just saying it and letting it sit. I think part of it because not everyone recognizes the company name and I’m anticipating questions. But I’d rather simply feel comfortable asserting my answer.

    I was actually just in a meeting where I had to present and it took all of my energy and attention not to use up talk (but I still did it). I’m also trying to stop saying “just” in emails, i.e. “I just wanted to ask you about X.” It’s as if I need to minimize the request. Aaaahhhh…

    Oh man, lots of feelings.

    1. Yes! Trust that they’ll ask if they don’t know what Indeed is. That’s on them to speak up if they’re not sure what you’re talking about.
      And I’m SO with you on the “just” front. I’m on high alert when I read emails before sending them. I almost always have to remove a sneaky “just,” and even then I still feel like I should make some other accommodation in the sentence to soften it. Solidarity, friend.

  3. “Just.” I read a similar article about a year ago, and since then, I’ve really been working on pulling ‘just’ out of my vocabulary, especially in emails. In order to meet my deadlines at work, I rely on a large network of people to submit information, slides, feedback, etc. I don’t always get these details in a timely manner, so I used to draft a lot of reminder emails starting with the phrase, ‘Hi, I’m just following up on this request…’ I realized I wasn’t doing myself any favors by starting the conversation this way, and I wasn’t exerting any authority over the situation by inserting the word ‘just.’ If I gave John Doe a deadline of Thursday and it’s now Friday or the following Monday, I needed to be more strict with my ask. I didn’t need to be embarrassed or timid. I don’t know why women are programmed this way more so than men, but I’m thankful for articles like this that can help us realize these things, and make changes for the better!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Simon, and thanks for the feedback! Love this: “Persuade yourself that the person you’re talking to will give you the floor, that he won’t jump in the moment you hesitate.”

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