One way confidence is judged is by an individual’s behavior, especially verbal behavior. That’s according to Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Professor Tannen has been researching the influence of linguistic style on conversations and human relationships since 1974. She has also studied how ways of speaking learned in childhood affect judgments of competence and confidence in the workplace for several years.
How we speak, she says, determines who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done. Tannen gives the following example: one publishing company executive said, “I’m hiring a new manager. I’m going to put him in charge of my marketing division,” as if he owned the corporation. In stark contrast, women were saying “we” when referring to work they alone had done. One woman explained that it would sound too self-promoting to claim credit in an obvious way by saying, “I did this.” Yet she expected—sometimes vainly—that others would know it was her work and would give her the credit.
You might think that your way of speaking is natural, but the words you use and how you use them can determine how your confidence is judged. While there is no such thing as right or wrong words—results vary depending on the context—some common words we use in conversation really just put us at a disadvantage because they are weak and make us seem less confident.
1. “Um” and “Ah”
Many people throw in an “um” whenever they are temporarily lost for words. But there is a reason you won’t hear these crutch words, as they are known in public speaking, in news bulletins and TV shows. “Um”s and “Ah”s make people seem not only less confident, but also dumb. If you are guilty of this habit, stop it. Instead, take a brief pause when you are temporarily lost for words.
2. “Like” and “You know”
Some other people can’t go three sentences without appending a “like” to the beginning of a sentence. This is not a good if you want people to take what you say seriously. “Like” and “You know” are close cousins to crutch words. They make you look silly and incompetent when overused.
Saying things like, “Just wanted to ask a question” or “Just checking in” weakens your statements and waters down your requests. You seem less sure of yourself and less confident than you probably are. Drop the extra word and speak like a boss. Talk like you know what you want.
4. “Kind Of”
The words “kind of” or “sort of” used in conversations make you come across as vague and ambiguous. You look like you have no idea what’s going on or are afraid of committing. Unless you want people to think you are timid or clueless of what’s going on, don’t misuse these words.
If you are always saying “hopefully” to everything in conversation or that you’ll hopefully get something done, you’re actually telling people that you don’t have control over situations. This can backfire on you because it can communicate that you are weak, powerless or even unreliable.
“Actually” has become the new “basically” or “literally.” People use it even where it doesn’t stylistically make sense. For example, the phrase “but actually” is terribly misused. This particular usage is often unnecessary (fluff) and can make you seem uninformed and pitiful.
99% of the times people use the word “sorry” in conversations where no apology is necessary. Saying things like, “Sorry, can you come visit me?” or “Sorry, can I take you out?” can be misinterpreted to mean you’re not confident. Drop the “sorry” and say what you mean confidently. If you want to apologize for something, say sorry like you really mean it.
Dropping the occasional f-bomb (curse words) can add emphasis to what you are saying. But, often curse words are unnecessary and plain offensive. They suggest you are insecure about what is being discussed or are simply a rude and brutish individual. Cut curse words from your conversations.
Possible solution for glitches in conversation
Admittedly, getting rid of these communication glitches is not easy. The mistakes creep into your conversations before you realize it. However, a technique you can use to curb these errors (suggested by improvement thinkers like Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins, and also bloggers like Scott H. Young) is to keep a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you make a communication blunder (say, using um’s and ah’s), switch the rubber band onto your opposite wrist. If you can go seven days with the band staying on the same wrist, you’re making progress.