Even if you’re clever and educated, you could still be guilty of making these popular but annoying speaking mistakes.
There’s a lot you can change about your presentation to make yourself seem smarter (and, hey, if you want to go for substance over style, plenty of ways to actually be smarter), but few have a bigger impact than eliminating bad speech habits.
You’re an educated person, however, who knows to stay away from “ain’t,” avoids the valley girl staple “like,” and steers clear of fillers like “ummm.” Does that mean your speech is as polished as it could be? Chances are that no matter how clever and careful you are, you’re still making at least a few inadvertent errors that lower others’ opinion of your intelligence.
That’s the message of an interesting recent post from Sarah Winfrey on blog WiseBread. Rather than the usual suspects of poor speaking, Winfrey digs up some speech habits that are less often commented on but no less annoying and that even people who pay attention to their communication style are often guilty of. Here are five of the best:
1. “I know, right?”
Popular among eager-to-please 20-somethings, this phrase sounds innocuous but is actually pretty awkward. “It asks a question that the other person may not know whether or not to answer. Since you’re asking them to affirm something they just said, using this can make the other person in the conversation confused, and it can make you look like you don’t know what to say,” explains Winfrey. Opt for a simple “Oh, yeah” or just receptive silence instead, she advises.
2. “You’ll be fine.”
Maybe the person you say this to really will be fine, but chances are he or she will think you’re a bonehead. “When something bad happens to someone we care about, we want to make them feel better. We want to make the situation better, so we tell them, ‘You’ll be fine.’ Unfortunately, this is dismissive and sends a clear message that you aren’t interested in listening to them. Even if this isn’t at all what you want to say, this is your message when you use these words,” argues Winfrey. According to her, saying nothing is better than using this aggravating phrase.
3. “I think you should…”
What could be wrong with a little well-meant advice? Plenty, contends Winfrey. “If someone comes to you and asks, ‘What do you think I should do about this?’ it’s fine to give them advice. Otherwise, just don’t. Offering advice when it wasn’t requested makes you sound pompous, or at least like you enjoy appearing to be clever,” she warns, suggesting guilty parties listen harder and ask better questions instead.
4. “I’m not judging you, but…”
Sorry, but yes you are. As soon as you say this you’re being doubly annoying. It’s clear to anyone even half awake that you are, in fact, being judgmental and, to add insult to injury, you’re pretending that you’re not. Quit it!
“The very fact that you are thinking in terms of judging means that you are making some sort of judgment about them in your own head. And this isn’t good for you or for them,” writes Winfrey. If you’re guilty of saying this regularly, you might be guilty of being a little too judgmental of others. Try to tame that tendency “by thinking up reasons why the other person’s actions might make sense, and speak to them from that place of understanding,” suggests Winfrey.
5. Big words
Here’s a bonus fifth mistake that doesn’t come from WiseBread but definitely bears repeating in this context. If you’re a fan of using big words to demonstrate the breadth of your vocabulary and the brilliance of your thinking, be warned: Studies show that using fancy words when simple ones will do is a sure-fire way to end up looking dumb. So before you get out the thesaurus in an attempt to impress, remember that simplicity and clarity are generally a better signal of mastery than flowery language.
By Jessica Stillman