Communication Challenge: Avoid Empty Phrases When You Communicate

A frequent challenge when speaking is to avoid adding empty phrases when you communicate.

And there are a few popular ones doing the rounds at the moment which, in my view, weaken and dilute the message you’re trying to convey.

chalkboard with coloured crayons around it, with text with empty phrases when you communicate
Avoid Empty Phrases When You Communicate

When we want to get a point across at work, whether in a conversation, meeting or presentation, it’s important to be clear and crisp (unless, of course, we’re trying to create a smokescreen or divert attention from something undesirable!).

And there are some empty phrases which just bloat our communication. Here’s a recent quote from a high-level sportsperson in the AFL (Australian Football League) which leapt out at me:

Each and every individual that walks into our club can be a leader in some way, shape or form…”

Two empty phrases in one sentence! I particularly dislike “in some way, shape or form” and am hearing it everywhere at the moment.

Think about it: adding three versions adds zero to the meaning, and whole lot of fluff and bloat to the sentence!

Why not just: “Every individual that walks into our club can be a leader”.

Another example:

“Think about how much of an impact we can make: our processes, ideas, projects…and so on and so forth.

I don’t like this one either. It’s long-winded, and essentially meaningless. “And so on” is fine if you want to convey that you have a lot of other examples, and don’t need to add them right now. But cut out “and so forth”. That’s fluff and a waste of space.

Reasons why we do it:

  1. It’s a habit
  2. We’re speaking on the fly, and are feeling our way, searching for the words we really want
  3. Our goal is to emphasise the point we’re making by using more words
  4. We haven’t thought our ideas through well-enough beforehand (see point #2!)
  5. We’re nervous, and the extra words “just fall out!” as a client told me

And the solutions to avoid empty phrases when you communicate?

  1. Become aware of when you use these phrases. Tune into what you say more keenly, or ask people you trust: they may be very aware of certain pet phrases you often trot out, even if you’re not!
  2. Allow more pauses and space, and take your time to choose your words carefully
  3. Use vocal tone to emphasise instead
  4. Take time before you speak or present – if it’s important – to craft your messages
  5. If you’re nervous: breathe, practise as much as possible in a safe environment, and get help if you need it

Making sure you avoid empty phrases when you communicate – like the ones I mention above – will vastly improve the clarity and crispness of your style. You’ll have greater impact. And you’ll avoid merely adding word-count and noise to your ideas.

I’ve also written previous articles, if you’re interested, on other communication challenges like not fully trusting your own ideas or talking too much.


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