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Using Filler Words: When Did Um Change to I Think?

Like you, I listen to people talk all day long. While I enjoy talking and listening, some words are distracting. In meetings I’ve been known to count the number of times um was used. Lately, I’ve noticed we’re inserting different filler words. My question is when did um change to I think?

filler words distract from your messageTake a listen at your next meeting, phone call, or conversation with family, friends, staff, board, or donors. How many times does the other person OR YOU insert “I think” to the conversation?

There’s a bit of debate about the use of filler words. What are they? The are meaningless words we use to fill the space as we come up with our next thought. Words like: um, ah, actually, just, basically, nevertheless, and now I’ve noticed “I think” has become a new go-to filler phrase.

You might find you use more filler words when you’re nervous or gathering your thoughts. I find them distracting and they often water down the importance of what we’re saying. In my book, they are a no-no when we speak with people who give money or time to our organizations. Especially in those conversations our word choices matter.

Years ago I had the gift of receiving rigorous coaching on my spoken word. My coach would listen to my training and coaching sessions and then debrief with me using her seven or eight pages of notes with things like:

  • Said um 57 times in 90 minutes
  • Touched your hair 18 times
  • Rushed your words so fast I couldn’t understand what you were saying
  • Hand gestures got distracting

And so on.

While it was tough to listen to, the gift of that coaching was becoming a powerful, clear speaker. I learned to remove filler words and unnecessary actions. I remember the pride I felt when my coach presented me with only three bullets of feedback!

While I slip back into old habits I do my best to course-correct as soon as I notice my language skills slipping. To this day I still practice speaking out loud what I want to say before important meetings.

In my experience, we insert “I think” when we are nervous or haven’t thought through what we want to convey. The result can diminish our powerful thoughts and ideas. Remember: filler words can be a crutch and habit.

My advice: Make certain each word matters.

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