After checking out meetings for a few years, I finally took the plunge and joined Toastmasters in 2014. I knew I needed to have a practice environment if I was going to be serious about my public speaking and my communication. My attention was grabbed early on by the practice of counting ah’s and um’s. In fact, there is a person called the Ah/Um counter who marks down every time a speaker uses these filler words…ah, um, like, so, you know and other terms used to fill space. After a few meetings, I became sensitive to ah’s and um’s. They began to immediately stick out to me in conversation. I would hear them loudly in my own brain if I uttered them. I even became distracted by them if I heard them used by presenters and reporters on TV. I began to recognize them as crutches and bad communication habits.
However, filler words are mechanical issues. They are words usually used as a delay tactic while you think. I want to point out some other communication habits which ruin the energy of a conversation.
Interrupting – I’ve been guilty of this. When a conversation gets passionate and I really want to get my point across, I’ve been guilty of interrupting. For some, this is a normal part of conversation. Instead of listening, they are instead waiting for a point to jump in…like New York double dutch jumpers. This is a way of overpowering the conversation instead of creating an intentional dialogue. While a conversation like this has a lot of energy, it is usually one sided. The interrupter is high energy while the interruptee is simply being drained.
Rambling – I’ve been guilty of this too. Instead of being concise and getting to the point, you attempt to place as much information as possible into the conversation, assuming the listener is not informed. You begin to lose the point and pretty soon, you’ve segued into another point which only serves then to confuse the listener. Think about your main point and get there as soon as you can.
Fidgeting – Again, GUILTY!! This is not nervous fidgeting. This is closer to multitasking. As a supervisor, I’ve had people enter my office to have a conversation. Instead of asking for a minute to finish what I was working on, I would continue tapping away on the keyboard or fiddling with some folders while they were talking. I wasn’t listening. I don’t have folders now but I have a smartphone. When it’s in my hand, I’m tempted to do something with it especially if a notification pops up. I mentioned this to my wife as something I’m working on. She reminds me to be fully present when we are having conversation by putting the phone away. We have intentional electronics free conversations.
Making it about you – Wow! I’m four for four. Guilty again. When someone tells you how bad their day was, simply listen and let them have their moment. Be empathetic. But, resist the urge to talk about how YOUR day was so much worse. Pause, listen and let the other person have ownership of the moment.
Good communication deepens your relationships and allows for opportunities to be of service. Be aware of areas where you can grow in communication. But, also, be aware of your strengths, your communication success strategies and begin to use those to make better connections.
This post also appears in Huffington Post here.