Sunday, August 16, 2009

"You Know"- Is this communication's greatest filler or failure?

Imagine this scenario- A senior leader or a politician or a management expert comes in to speak and the topic goes this way:

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen- I came here to talk about green energy- What is green energy? You know, this is a……You know… has….. You know….blah…You know…blah…You know…blah… You know repeated 150 minutes over the next 10 minutes then moving on to infinity of “you know”’s.

In December, 2008, Caroline Kennedy used “You Know” 142 times – a lot of internet sites has that video; during that conversation, I am sure that all of us gave our full focus on the fillers and its appearance the next time. It’s more of predicting the occurrence in a speech rather than listening to that speech. Don’t you agree?

A lot of times, we inadvertently use the filler, “you know” while we communicate- There is no harm if it is used once or twice during a conversation. But it becomes super frustrating to understand someone’s thoughts if it is used throughout the conversation. Some of my preliminary studies on various leaders, various communicators indicate that they use this filler quite generously.

My observations indicate an alarming frequency of this usage- This one is for hardcore statisticians and for folks who like data; On an average, I have observed the usage of fillers some 150-200 times in a 15 minute conversation. “You Know” as the filler is the leader of the pack followed by “like”, “I mean”, “means”, “as in”, “huh” in some geographies. In other geographies, some other filler takes the place!- Somehow YW (shortened for “You Know”) has this egregious ability to penetrate all conversations and spoil the whole show. It’s like a virus that’s constantly spreading unless we consciously ostracize it.

I have personally experienced the ability of YW peeping in my conversations- Most of the times we never recognize its destructive ability until someone points it out. In your professional life, people rarely point out; sometimes people point out depending on the hierarchy level that you are in. The higher you go, the number of people who give you candid feedback comes down tremendously and you have to rely on informal sources. Interestingly, my wife pointed this all the time whenever I was giving a talk- I used to get all irritated when she used to point out but I never got angry on YW. I have consciously eradicated the frequency but it does take time when one is habituated to use fillers.

Based on my experience, I can suggest couple of measures to eradicate it:
• Please acknowledge that we use fillers
• Observe your speech- The best way is to listen a recorded speech as that has the best prophylactic effect
• If you don’t have the means to record your speech, have a neutral person outside your organization evaluate your speech – During that time, please ask him or her to note down the fillers
• Once you have done this, you can validate the annoyance of fillers in our daily speech
• If you have reached this stage, you have won 75% of the battle
• The remaining 25% is just execution- Consciously avoiding it, replacing it with silences- Sometimes a pregnant silences will do. 
• Once you have done it, re-record your present conversation and compare it with the earlier one- Then pat one on your back and reward yourself a “Hagen-Dass” ice cream or whatever “you know”! 

On one of my earlier listening sessions, I was hearing one of the senior leaders speak on one of the management sessions and the frequency of YW in a 10 minute conversation was 250 times. It was really an arduous task for me to segregate the real content after removing the fillers. The person really had great content but YW really made a mess of the content. The only thing that remains is, “you know”, I don’t know what to say!

In today’s world, communication has become the greatest tool for everyone irrespective of his/her designation- Communication coaches, advisors and mentors should definitely point this out to senior leaders today. It’s okay to use it but definitely not okay to overuse it- When someone does that, the real content vanishes and all it remains is the filler!

Although fillers are a good tool to create on the fly thinking especially when you are on the spot, or when you are thinking aloud or when you want to wing the conversation; this tool needs to be used sparingly!

Don’t you all agree? Would love to hear your views or your experience of fillers or your experience on listening to a fun-filled overused “filler” conversation?


Kaushal said...

Interesting. I never noticed but now I can recall what fillers I use generally. :)

I hope it won't make me conscious during my own talks.

Sree said...

Good on Prakash, was waiting on a post from you for a very long time :)