A group of young employees gathered around a table hunched down and talking, trying to avoid using verbal fillers in speech.
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How verbal fillers could be harming your career prospects

9 Nov 2018

Verbal fillers such as ‘like’, ‘uhm’ and ‘uhh’ are totally natural and nothing to be ashamed of. However, in high-stakes moments in your career, they may set you back. Here’s how you can stop saying them so frequently.

Verbal fillers are a very natural part of speech for everyone bar the most theatre-trained and media-prepped among us. Most people pepper their sentences with fillers such as ‘uhm’, ‘uhh’, ‘you know’ and, most famously, ‘like’.

Some psychologists argue that the overuse of filler phrases is an indication that the person speaking is thoughtful and attempting to make a nuanced point. Yet this doesn’t necessarily align with how these kinds of people are perceived. In fact, people who use verbal fillers have been found in academic studies to be perceived as inarticulate and uninterestinguntrustworthy, and even lazy.

First impressions really matter in your professional life. It’s actually pretty unfair how much they matter – often, first impressions can be quite superficial, and lightning-quick judgements are often influenced by implicit bias in the interview room. This can be especially true when it comes to speech. There is a risk that people will jump to conclusions based on very prejudicial and even classist beliefs that they may not be entirely aware of.

So really, there should be no reason that doing something as innocent as saying ‘like’ would mar your professional development. Yet it still very much could. While it’s good to try and change the ills of the world, we still have to exist within the world we’re in, not the one we want to be in.

In this professional world, verbal fillers could distract from your central point during high-stakes points in your career such as interviews, important client meetings and conference presentations.

Quid Corner has drafted the excellent infographic below detailing the various ways you can stop yourself from using verbal fillers at work. It’s a healthy mix of common sense and some surprising factors that can influence how often you use fillers.

Filler words are often used to give you time to think about what you’re going to say. Instead of using ‘uhm’, however, you can just take a pause or speak more slowly. You don’t necessarily need to fill the dead air.

Amazingly, putting your hands in your pockets can also make you more likely to use filler words, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll be happy to oblige with the following recommendation: listen to sports commentators. Communications expert Carmine Gallo has said that they’re a great example of people who speak concisely and precisely.

For some more advice on cutting down on your use of verbal fillers in the workplace, check out the infographic below.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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