If you are under 30, or you have loved ones under 30, please listen up. I decided to end my long relationship with the motor vehicle this year, as a kind of one year test: life without a car. As a result, I’ve been taking the bus to school. This particular bus is loaded with undergraduates chatting freely to each other. So of course, I eavesdrop, mainly because it is fun. What I hear worries me.
Here is my message for our aspiring leaders. Stop using the words like, totally and so. Now there is nothing wrong about the words like, totally and so. However, if they are used as a substitute for thought, they make you sound kind of innocent, unsophisticated, uneducated and young. You know what I’m talking about, comments such as, “She like, told him off, like.” or “He was totally drunk last night”, or “She sounded so sick”. Recently I heard a young man talking to a young woman for about 5 minutes. After the first minute I started counting. He used the word like 47 times in the following 4 minutes. After a while, you don’t even notice your language tics.
The problem with language tics is that they are habitual, and can be very hard to shake. I am still working on getting rid of the filler word “uhm”. The sooner the words like, totally and so are erased from your vocab, the better. This is particularly important for young women, who are already fighting a number of stereotypes. Women are already subject to the perception of incompetence much more than men are, and the “valley girl” language of the 80s will only reinforce that impression. For both young men and women, who are struggling with an unforgiving job market, these small behaviours can change your life, because, whether it’s fair or not, you are being judged about the appropriateness of what you look like, what you say and how you say it.
Listen to how leaders you admire speak. Do you every hear Hillary Clinton or Emma Watson say like, totally, or so? How about Bill Gates or your favourite professor? Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former presented John F. Kennedy ended a campaign for the U.S. Senate after a botched speech replete with filler words. We trust people who are articulate. Who sound sophisticated. Who sound mature.
Undoing the habit of filler words is tough. I found a blog with some good tips to help you shake filler words. So start now, enlist the help of friends and family, to erase the career killing filler words.