Are you one of the many, *many* people who “like” a little too much? Like, you pepper your speech with “like” so often it practically stands in for, like, a comma? Or maybe there is another filler noise that’s messing up your verbiage – the infamous uh, um, and ah , or perhaps their pernicious cousins y’know and so. Regardless what your filler noises may be (and we all have them), they can be absolute beasts to get rid of. In this Communication Q&A I help you tackle this issue with a few of my preferred methods for eliminating fillers from your speech.
(And yes, it will require practice and persistence!)
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How many likes can a like liker like if a like liker could like likes?
Hello everyone, my name is Lauren Sergy, communication obsessee, maven of verbal matter, and welcome to Communication Q&A. Today’s question comes from Sally, who does not like ‘like’, particularly when we pepper every sentence with the word. Here’s Sally:
Hi there Lauren! I just discovered you yesterday in an effort to help a loved one become aware of their vocal fry. I loved your video on eliminating ums & ahs and will do some much needed work on that for myself. Do you have a video specifically dealing with the abuse of the word “like”? I think it is also a verbal filler and makes people sound unprofessional and 12. Like…help!
Sally, thanks for writing! “Like” is the bit of verbal fluff I get asked about the most often. Technically, it’s what’s known as a ‘filled pause’. Filled pauses are things we say when we’re trying to gather our thoughts or figure out how we want to say something. Other common filled pauses are ‘so’, ‘um’, ‘ah,’ ‘you know’, etc. I think of them as our brain forcing our mouth to stop saying words so it has a chance to catch up. “Like” in particular is also a way for us to signal to the other person that we’re trying to choose our words, that we are not finished speaking.
I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to getting rid of filler words like these –focusing on eliminating “like,” “um,” or “ah” completely is often more effort than it’s worth. They’re a natural part of language and most people won’t notice the occasional bit of filler.
THAT BEING SAID, if you are popping “like” into every other sentence, or even multiple times within a sentence, it’s going to make you sound juvenile, like you aren’t able to gather your thoughts and express yourself in an orderly fashion. So what to do to get control over your “likes?”
In the video I made on “really” as a filler word, I recommended focusing on punctuation in order to avoid saying “really” at the end of sentences. For “like,” along with “um” and “ah”, I want you to focus on recognizing when you’re about to say the fillers, then replacing them with meaningful pauses. I’ve got three tactics you can try.
Tactic 1: Speak more slowly.
Filler words happen when our thoughts are spinning, or when our mouths are moving faster than our brain. Slowing down your speech helps a lot, because it gives our brain the time it needs to choose it’s words. This is especially true in a stressful conversation. You don’t need to slow down a lot – just turn the speed dial from, let’s say, an 8 down to a six. (example) So if you find yourself speaking this fast and those ‘likes’ are coming in, I want you to turn the speed dial down ….and focus on speaking this fast instead. Don’t underestimate this tactic – it might sound simple, but it has an outsized effect.
Tactic 2: Create a new habit of pausing.
Using filler words is a language habit, and you can override most of them by developing a pausing habit. First, you need to learn to recognize when you’re about to start using filler words by getting in tune with how they feel.
Generally, when we’re about to start “liking” or “umming and aahing” a lot, our thoughts will feel muddy and we’ll struggle to put words together. It might feel like your brain is pushing against a wall, or like your tongue can’t form the words.
I want you to pay attention to those moments in your speech, to that feeling of mental or physical struggle. AS SOON AS YOU FEEL THAT MUDDINESS OR EXPERIENCE THAT STRUGGLE, I want you to close your mouth and take a breath in through your nose.
This pause takes the place of a “like” or an “um,” and it gives your brain the chance to put those words together. In order to let people know that I’m pausing to think and that I’m not done talking, I’ll often give an obvious physical signal that I’m thinking – I’ll break eye contact or use a hand motion that shows I’m not finished. Here’s an example:
“Sometimes figuring out how put your thoughts to words is hard, it’s……………….it’s as though our tongue doesn’t know what to do next, it doesn’t know how to shape itself around those ideas.” That physical signal will help people know that you aren’t finished speaking and they’ll (usually) hold space for you.
Tactic 3: Likus Interruptus
This is more of a brute force tactic, but still very useful. You’re going to start interrupting those ‘likes’ and with pauses. Just like tactic 2, it starts with developing self awareness. When you’re speaking and you notice you’re saying “like” a lot, pay attention to the feeling of saying the word. Notice how the sound starts in your throat, or what you’re mouth is doing when you start to say it. Then, when you feel yourself start to make the noise, cut it off! Shut your mouth, take a breath, and carry on. It sounds like this:
“Sometimes figuring out how put your thoughts to words is hard, l….……………….it’s as though our tongue doesn’t know what to do next, it doesn’t know how to shape itself around those ideas.” See how I started to say the “like” but interrupted it? Doing this over and over will also help you eliminate those “likes” and “ums”
All three of these tactics can be used together. Taking a multi-pronged approach to dealing with fillers is a good idea, because they’re a stubborn habit to kick. It’s also going to take pratience and practice. You are developing new speech habits, and that’s tricky. Here are some practice recommendations:
First, work on these skills in low-stakes conversations, such as when you’re having a relaxed, easy conversation with a friend or co-worker, or in a meeting where you don’t need much brain power to participate. That way you can give some of your brain power over to paying attention to your speech habits.
Second, enlist a friend or trusted co-worker to help you. Ask them to flag you when you use your fillers by, say raising their hand (this will help you learn to recognize when you’re most likely to use them). It can be hard to recognize this ourselves when we’re trying to speak, so having someone let you know when it’s happening it very helpful. (This was something my acting teachers did with me).
Third, be sure to practice on your own – have conversations with yourself out loud to get in tune with your speech habits. In the shower or the car or when doing chores is the perfect time for this. It feels silly, but it’s very helpful.
There you go, Sally – the full approach to getting rid of your unwanted “likes” for good!
To all my watchers…Not all “likes” are unwanted, and I’d really like for you to hit that “like” button if you found this video helpful, and to subscribe to my channel while you’re at it. It really does help out my channel.
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Thanks for joining me on Communication Q&A – I’ll see you again soon!