Saying What You, Um, Mean: Five Easy Steps Towards Effective Communication

When you try to present an idea to someone; your boss, a prospective client, a spouse, do you sometimes find that they don’t let you get your ideas out, or that they don’t hear you? Do you feel that you are not being taken seriously? Blaming them doesn’t get your idea across; what you need is more effective communication to have a better life.

In order to get your great idea or point of view heard, it has to be heard. Many good ideas are lost because communication isn’t quick, direct, and clear, -and clogged with what great communicators call “filler.”

Filler words; words like um, uh, well, like, kind of and stuff, are like stammering. We use them to continue the flow of a conversation with meaningless noise while we think of something to say. They can make you look like you lack conviction, confidence, direction, or even honesty. While you may simply be in the habit of sprinkling your conversation with filler words, they have their origin in insecurity.

Saying What You, Um, Mean: Five Easy Steps Towards Effective Communication

Here’s an example of a communication doomed by filler: Joe wants to ask his employer to let him work longer hours on Thursday so that he can leave with his family for a long weekend. He knows that he can finish the project if he works late Thursday, which will make the client happy, and he isn’t asking for any overtime.

It makes sense, but Joe is nervous because he is afraid his employer will think he wants to do a rush job on the project and take the day off. He has thought about what he wants to do, but he hasn’t thought about what he wants to say. He takes the plunge:

“Hey, um, Frank, I uh, wanted to talk to you…about something.”

“Yes, what?” His employer seems busy.

“Well, um, you know the Baker job? Uh, well, I was wondering, well, it’s my wife’s birthday and we were kind of thinking about taking off early for the beach this weekend, …and stuff, so I was wondering if uh, you would, uh, mind, if I worked late Thursday,… and stuff, and so like then I could kind of, you know, get it all finished early, so I could like, leave early on Friday.”

“What? Sorry, Joe, what were you saying?”

This is supposed to be an exaggeration, but people actually talk like that! Not only did Joe start with his personal motives for working late, which has last place on the list of his employer’s interests, but he took up a lot of his employer’s time with filler words.

To some people, standing around waiting for someone to get to the point is like standing around with your head on fire waiting for a bucket of water. However, for other people, it is a habit which is hard to break, and which is probably keeping them from successful communication.

Breaking bad habits requires a plan. Let’s look at five easy steps towards eliminating fillers and improving Joe’s communication:


Decide What You Are Going To Say

Decide What You Are Going To Say

Rehearse, in your head, what you will say. You might even want to write down bullet points for your presentation until you get better at this. Get to the point quickly. Think pros and solvable cons. Go through your communication in your head, like a speech. Physically smile while you are doing this, and imagine a happy outcome.

Remember, filler words are like stammering. If you feel relaxed and confident about this communication, you won’t have to stop and say “uh.”

Read more: Everyday Negotiation: Getting To Yes In Three Steps



Get The Point

It’s annoying to watch someone nervously rising to their objective. It feels dishonest. Be polite, positive and considerate as much as possible, but get to the point. This will keep you from being nervous and using filler words while you get up your nerve.

Be Sensitive To What The Person You Are Talking To May Be Feeling Or Thinking

Put yourself in their shoes. What might go through their mind when hearing you? Be ready with a positive and respectful solution to their objection. If you are not taken off guard you will be relaxed and less likely to use filler words.

Wait A Few Second Before Answering

Not only does this give you a filler-free moment to consider what to say, but people appreciate that you are actually thinking about what they have said.



Be Relaxed And Gracious

Thank them graciously for being open to your ideas, or, if they are not, for listening. Use their name. Leave smiling.

Let’s give Joe another shot:

“Frank, can I talk to you for a second?”

“Yes, what?” His employer seems busy.

“I’d like to stay late Thursday night and finish up the Baker job. I’m pretty sure I can get it wrapped up by ten, and I know they would appreciate getting the job done early. I’d be happy to do it for regular time, because I was also going to ask if I could leave early Friday to take my wife to the beach for her birthday.”

“I’m not sure I want you gone early on Friday. What if it turns out there’s a problem with the Baker job that I need you to redo? Then I’ll have to tell them it won’t be ready until Monday, and they won’t like that.”

Joe paused, looking thoughtful. “You’re usually here by 7:00. Would it be possible for you to look at my work when you come in, and then I’ll come in at 7:30 and we can go over it? If there’s a problem I’ll stay until you’re happy.”

Frank smiled, happy that Joe was showing initiative and taking responsibility for his work. “Sounds good, Joe. We’ll take a look at it Friday morning to make sure it’s all set before you clock out.”

“Definitely. I appreciate this, Frank.”

Be Relaxed And Gracious

Notice that Joe seemed more confident, and that when Frank raised objections, he offered a solution without saying um, uh, I mean, like, geez, or stuff, and he sounded trustworthy and smart. He got his employer’s attention quickly, offered a win-win situation, and took responsibility for any inconveniences that might result.

He maintained a respectful and friendly attitude, and Frank listened and liked what he heard. Honestly, Frank also really liked that Joe talked like an intelligent adult.

The next time you need to talk to somebody, try thinking of it as an exercise in effective communication and leave out the filler. You’ll be glad you did, and so will everyone else!

Read more: Seven Ways To Build Optimism

Jake Tyler
Hi all, I’m Jake Tyler, over the past decade I’ve been working strong on my personal fitness levels. From the age of 16, I have been a kickboxer, and I’ve built up an incredible passion for fitness & self-improvement. This experience has led me to a career in personal training and health & fitness.

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