Say what you need to say.

Recently I was asked by a client to help him improve his communication capabilities. English is his second language, and he wanted to be sure his messages were coming across in the most effective manner. Through my work with this particular client, my attention to language, tone, and inflection heightened; and I became painfully aware of the shortcomings of many of us in the way in which we speak. Here are a few of my observations relative to our ability to speak with power and improved effectiveness.

1. What is up with ‘right?’ Earlier this week, I began to count how many times individuals with whom I work or interact, finished their sentences with “yeah, right?” It has become a familiar ‘tag on’ to conversation, as if we need approval, validation, or recognition that what we are saying is indeed right. I want to say, “I have no idea if you are right – you are telling this story!” That quirk may be acceptable socially; yet, as leaders, this simply weakens the power of our message. If you need to ask a question, then ask – otherwise, state your point and let it rest without asking for validation from your audience each and every time.

2. Ending a statement with a questionable tone. I don’t know where or how this trend began; however, I have countless clients and friends who end their statements with an upward lilt in their voice, as if they are asking a question or leaving it open for discussion. It is a habit which then becomes pervasive in an organization. I am working with one organization that every single executive I am coaching has this tendency toward inflection. Seldom do you hear someone simply state their point with firm, convincing, and unquestionable authority. It lessons the power of our message and certainly distracts from a confident executive presence. Be aware of this tendency, and practice consciously the ability to state your points with conviction.

3. Overused words and cliches. I remember when “gross me out” was a phrase that every teenager used as frequently as many executives use “out of the box”!  When we use these phrases too often or inappropriately, they undoubtedly distract from our executive presence. In addition, the words lose their power and effectiveness. Buzz words are just that – buzz words. What are we really trying to say? Think about it. Be deliberate and descriptive. By speaking in your style with your own words, your voice will be authentic and you will be at your most powerful.

What do you think? What annoying speaking habits have you experienced or have you observed in your own behavior?

10 responses to “Say what you need to say.

  1. Kristin,you are so RIGHT about the three issues you spoke of. I hear the word RIGHT all the time from people. Tape record your conversations with clients to help them become self aware is one tool I use to help leaders communciate effectively.


  2. I am a bit worried about how often I might end my sentences as a question. Today and tomorrow are great days for me to pay attention and practice as I am taking a dozen Foundation board members to Austin to meet with legislators on issues that are important to us. Thank you for bringing this back to my attention and hopefully you can stop me from sounding like a Valley Girl.

  3. What a great message today! In reference to cliches: I don’t know when it became acceptable to substitute “Shout out” for “thank” in an executive meeting, but not only is it an incorrect use of urban slang (“shout out” = “hey!”), it’s also so unprofessional that it makes my skin crawl every time I hear it. At first, I tried making light of it with some of the execs by asking light-hearted questions such as, “oh are we increasing our street cred?” However, it’s just become pervasive. At least the executives that abstain from this nonsense still have the respect of the troops.


  4. Your comments are once again on target. My observation is that much of this behavior can be attributed to electronic communications,social media, and television. Interviews with poorly educated and financially successful athletes, musicians,actors and politicians are sending strong cultural messages. Proper english is becoming a second language. Young and impressionable people see their sports figures and media icons using terms such as : “Dude”, “BTW”,”sure” and “you know” as acceptable. Often interviewees fill the awkward interview “silence void” with these terms. Brilliance, culture and sophistication should never be confused lack of education and financial success.

  5. You are absolutely on target. My pet peeve is “you guys.” I once told a salesman his presetation would be greatly improved if he used “your team” or “your firm” instead of “you guys.” Every time I hear a professional speaker say “you guys,” I wince. It’s a crutch term that I put in the same category as “ah, um, and so.” It is a term that diminshes rather than builds up the audience or listener.

  6. Ban Bywaters response is sheer perfection…and suitable for framing. Proper English is indeed becoming a second language. Every time I hear “Are you done?” or “I’m done,” I feel like stabbing the person with a fork and saying, “No, not quite!”
    Also, tone of voice is so much more important than most of us think it is. The old adage “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” is true. As Ann Richards professed, “Put a smile on your face, your tone of voice will reflect the smile, and you can say anything to anyone and it will be accepted.”

  7. Thank you for your comments so far this morning! WOW – seems we have hit a nerve. I particularly resonate with the “I’m done” comment. I cannot tolerate this phrase, perhaps because I have been reared with such strict attention to proper English. It is “I am finished, thank you so much!”. I hope we can turn the tide on this lazy tendency to speaking with proper King’s English.

  8. Once again, your comments are so insightful. The phrase that makes me cringe is, “If you will….” So many people have the habit of dropping it into a sentence and this term has no relation to the topic. It makes me want to ask, “If I will what?” Listen for it, you will be amazed how often it is used.

  9. How about “at the end of the day”…am I the only one that got tired of hearing that? In elementary school, we lost a point each time we repeated our “filler phrase – ahhhhh or its ammmm alternate” as we tried to figure what the next word was. I never got into the “like” since I assumed it was or wasn’t but it wasn’t “like”.
    Of course if you have any passion about this like I do (that’s a different “like”), you will be come painfully self conscious of your words – OMG, I suspect that’s supposed to be one word – LOL.
    Yes! Kristin, you should try out for the Rangers as they definitely need some better hitters and you “hit the nail on the head” – I’m hopeless and can’t help myself.

  10. Kristin,
    This post really did strike a chord with your readers, and some of the responses tickled my funny bone as well, always a bonus! I’ll chime in with a repetitive word that triggers me and it is “Look…” etc. as in “Look, there’s no question that…” or “Look, when you think about….” The extra word “look” just serves no purpose and feels condescending to boot.

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