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Life 101: Are you watering down your message?

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Using more effective phrases can lead to more successful communication, according to Linda Arnold. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM


Pop quiz: What are the most ineffective phrases you can use?

 If your list includes the following, you’re in good company:

  • kind of
  • sort of
  • you know
  • like, really

You may be using these phrases on automatic pilot, diluting your message without even realizing it. Think about it. When you hear these words, do you find yourself wishing the speaker would get to the point?

Years ago, my sister brought this to my attention (thanks, Paula!), and now I cringe when I hear “kind of/sort of” overused—or catch myself using those words.

Consider this scenario, posed by the Presentation Coaching Institute, featuring an airline pilot:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we should have, you know, kind of begun our final descent to, ummm, our destination today. I’ll sort of really try to land the plane safely.”

It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in the pilot, does it?

To clean up your conversations, there are two types of words and phrases to avoid, according to the company Second Derivative:

  1. Spurious Spacers (ummm, you know)
  2. Wimpy Words (kind of, sort of)

Spurious Spacers are distracting and draw your attention away from the speaker’s message. Wimpy Words are the worst because they interfere with clarity.

In the business world, for example, companies want to do business with vendors who can get the job done, not those who “kind of” deliver.

What you say, how you say it and how others hear it can make or break your message. Why do you think prosecutors and defense attorneys work so hard on their opening and closing statements? Imagine the actors in “Law and Order”addressing a jury like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I sort of, you know, want to take this opportunity to, ummmm, point out some things that maybe should really make a difference. I’ll try to, like, kind of show you so you could probably decide. Know what I mean?”

While you may not have to prove your point beyond a shadow of a doubt, you’d better believe your listeners are picking up your cues just like the jurors in this example.

Power comes from clear communication. This involves not only the words you say; it involves the tone of your voice, your body language and your eye contact.

Here are five powerful tips for successful communication:

  1. Focus on what your listeners need to hear. Why should they care about what you have to say?
  • Get the stress out of your voice. Are you talking too fast or rambling?
  • Create enthusiasm for your listeners with your voice. Vary your pitch, tempo and tone. Flat, boring voices are easy to ignore.
  • Be direct, sincere and honest. Make eye contact. These techniques will garner respect and confidence.
  • Feedback is your friend. Practice using a tape recorder or video to play back your communications. Be brave. Few things are as humbling as hearing your own voice on a tape recorder. And, in the case of video, a picture is worth a thousand words. Ask a trusted friend for feedback. If you’re extremely brave, you could even solicit the help of those closest to you, such as family members, friends or coworkers, to point out the times you overuse a particular word or phrase.

Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and founder of a multi-state marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at For more information on her books, go to

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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