Recently we enjoyed a cup of coffee on the beach in California. The beach was busy with people basking in the sun , riding the waves and catching up on conversations while lounging in their beach chairs. As my husband and I sipped our coffee and enjoyed the view of the surf, I began to notice how many times these word were being used in different conversations around us: "yah...uh...no" and "But...ya...". The frequency of the use of these words seemed to detract from the conversations. It drew my attention and I noticed something interesting. The more frequent these words, the more it seemed the listener disengaged from the dialogue. While I am not saying that these filler words cause people to check out of conversations, it did provide me with an opportunity to consider what might work instead. Often my clients in communication and conflict resolution workshops tell me that:
- Silence is uncomfortable so they just keep talking (although sometimes they say things they regret later, or are not clearly thought out for the listener)
- Sometimes in conversations the brain doesn't work as fast as the mouth so extra and unnecessary words get tossed into the dialogue.
- When a conversation is stressful or defensive, filler words give your brain a chance to try and find the words to say next
This moment on the beach was a great opportunity for self reflection, right there, in the moment. I asked myself how many times in conversations do I replace silence with filler words? When I have been uncomfortable in a dialogue, how do I manage the discomfort without impacting the conversation or changing the context of the discussions?
Next time you are in an awkward or uncomfortable silence, listen carefully to the words you speak. Are they clear? Do filler words creep in to mask your discomfort or create an appearance of informality? Are people checking out or zoning out of the dialogue too early?
Here are three tips for speaking with clarity and confidence in your next uncomfortable conversation:
- Think in advance about your message...that is what you want to say. Take this one step further and practice saying your messages out loud. Listen carefully to the words that actually are spoken as sometimes what one thinks and what one says are not at all the same.
- Imagine yourself on the receiving end of what you are about to say or are saying. How does it land? How clear is it? What's the defensiveness level? If you don't like how it is sounding, simply change it up or reframe what you are about to say.
- Instead of filler words, take a breath or a pause. Trying counting to five in your head before responding or moving on to your next point in the conversation. Rushing doesn't exude confidence and we sometimes get lost in our thoughts so the message is stated in a disjointed or confusing manner. Breathing is a great way to improve conversation - and the good news is, you are doing it already, just be more conscious and mindful of breathing and slowing down in stressful conversations.
Remember, just like in food, additives in conversations can to be harmful to include!
Have a great day everyone! Chat with you again on Wednesday when I blog about "The Power of ONE".