According to Grammarly, filler words and phrases are “short, meaningless words (or sounds) we use to fill the little pauses that occur while we decide what we’re going to say next.” These words don’t add any extra meaning to our statements, but they do perform a function in speech. Filler words also help soften what we really want to say so that, in our minds at least, it sounds “less harsh or intense” to the person on the receiving end. More on the last point in a moment.
Here are some the most common filler words and phrases we use in the English language today:
- “I think”
- “I mean”
- “You know?”
Some litter our texts and emails, and others we say out loud constantly. Either way, they dilute what we’re trying to say and make our words less impactful. Using filler words too often will make you sound indirect and like you don’t really know what you want, which eventually translates to, you guessed it….not confident! Sounding unclear or wishy-washy also leaves room for others (especially toxic or manipulative people) to think that they might be able to sway you or change your mind, which gives them an immediate upper-hand. Yuck.
Do any of us think these things when we speak or type? Probably not. We’re not trying to put ourselves at a disadvantage. We just hate awkward pauses or silence in conversations, especially with people who might intimidate us a little bit. Or, we we want to soften what we’re saying to make the other person feel more comfortable. I’ve been there, and I get it, but how is that fair to us? We worry so much about coming off easygoing that we end up positioning ourselves as unsure and unclear.
Examples of Filler Words & Stronger Alternatives
Let’s get into some examples of when we use these filler words and helpful alternatives to use in their place. All you need are some slight changes to your sentence formation to eliminate the useless jargon and sound more certain and confident.
“Just” kills me. I used to use it so much in my emails at work and now make a conscious effort not to. Stop thinking that you’re bothering someone. You’re doing your job! If you already think you’re imposing, what is the person on the receiving end going to think? Eliminate “just” as often as you can.
This goes for any 50/50 word we use. “Maybe,” “possibly,” “potentially,” “could be,” “I think,” etc. Unless you’re actually unsure about something, do yourself a favor and don’t sound unsure. It does nothing for you in the long run.
I’ll admit, I use “so” in casual conversations with my husband or with loved ones. In some settings, it’s okay! But in more professional settings, be careful. It’s a filler word we use as a segue and there are better ways to articulate yourself or ask for something.
Instead of saying “I mean…” how about you just say what you mean? And say it with intention! The other person will be able to handle it, I promise. And if they can’t, is that really your problem?
We know that these words are no-nos since elementary school, but we still rely on them too often, almost subconsciously. Start listening to yourself more! When do you notice you use them the most? Do you use them around certain people more than others?
Can we all agree that it’s never okay to use “um…” no matter who you’re talking to or what you’re saying? I personally have to work on this one a lot, especially when speaking live. It’s another one that happens almost subconsciously, but it does nothing for us. Practice in the mirror, catch yourself when you want to say it, and start your sentence over again if you stumble. It’s what I do and I promise you that it does get better!
Articulating your thoughts clearly and with certainty is a great sign of confidence. It gives you this extra dose of “don’t f*ck with me” when you talk and compels people to listen and take you seriously. You don’t need to turn into a robot, either. You can ditch the filler words and still sound authentic and warm, especially in casual settings.
Here are some more helpful tips to remember:
- Silence and pauses in conversations don’t have to be awkward. Embrace them, they’re normal.
- Constantly “softening” what you really want to say only hurts you in the long run.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with 1-3 words you want to focus on eliminating the most. Once you master those, move on to another set!
Let me know if any words are sore spots for you, how you do with eliminating them, and if you notice a difference in how you sound & feel!