What’d you say?

Guest: Jim Fox Communication, HR (& Life!) Advice

post by jim fox

“Words have meaning” is a mantra from my consulting days, a statement I usually reflected on when a client would recant something they’d committed to publicly.

Why? Because someone is always listening.

And while it may not be the people we necessarily want to be listening, and what people take-away from our communication may not always be what we’d intended, it’s the sender’s responsibility to make sure that their message is received.

I challenge us to get out of our own way and to contribute to our success in this.  (Note: I say “us” in hopes of curbing my hypocrisy.)  Contribute your thoughts, you know, thoughtfully, by taking the time and responsibility to identify and communicate what matters.

There are two things in particular I’d like to point out prevent listeners from receiving our intended message:

  1. Habitual filler words in verbal communication
  2. Not saying anything in written communication

My ninth grade English and Communication Arts teacher, Mrs. Clemens, drilled into our heads the need to eliminate verbal fillers – in the mid-80’s the filers were “uhm” and “ahhh.”  Today’s filler of choice, “so,” is not much of an improvement. Urban Dictionary (a solid reference source I might add) has plenty to say about the term, but none of it validates its excessive use in business conversations today. Another habitual filler word that distracts me is “again.”  Hearing “again” throughout conversations and in presentations always sounds condescending, or at least causes me to get lost in:

  1. Trying to recall when/if it was said previously. 
  2. Questioning if I’d dozed off or given the speaker the feeling that I had. 
  3. Counting how many times the speaker says “again.” 
  4. Evaluating critically rather than understanding what’s being said.

Translation: your message is not received.

If you think what you’re saying warrants repeating, you must think it’s really important – or dare I say, so important. Is it really?  If it is, then please get your filler words out of the way of my ability to listen and receive.

Once we’ve eliminated filler words, let’s explore using the time saved to increase the value of our written communications. First up, the use of “FYI” or “Thoughts?” in emails.  Do you send or receive such gems?  My typical response to these types of emails is the desire to know what you found important in the half-dozen emails preceding your contribution to the situation. Rather than slinging out “thoughts?” consider offering a few bullets to highlight your own or opinion, or at the very least, what areas I need to focus mine.

In the name of brevity, let me offer the following common barriers and suggestions to address them:

Common Barrier


Starting a sentence/thought with “So.”Don’t.  Seriously, just don’t.
Peppering your presentation with “again.”Again, just don’t.
Forwarding an email chain with “Thoughts?” or “FYI.”Take the time to summarize the preceding emails and ask for specific feedback/action.
Reducing the effectiveness of your communication, credibility with coworkers and organizational impact through laziness and thoughtlessness.1. Learn your speaking mannerisms.2. Ask for feedback and address #1.3. Proofread your written messages for content, conciseness and grammatical errors (I suck at this).4. Do not use profanity in the workplace – it’s not a sign of power or passion, it’s a sign of character weakness and disregard for others. (I suck at this too).
Presuming that others care about what you are saying.Care enough about what you are saying to communicate it deliberately and carefully.
Thinking that you’re providing an exhaustive list.1. Recognize your limitations and the value of others’ contributions.2. Expect and welcome critiques, additions and contrary thoughts from others – these are strengths of our species.
How I have failed you in my communication.Your critiques, additions and contrary thoughts.


I’m not better than anyone else at addressing these communication shortcomings.  I’m also not more important than anyone else requiring you to be more thoughtful in your communications to me.  It’s that I’m as important as anyone else and that your thoughts can be as important as anyone else’s.

What distracts you from hearing what others have to say?  What do you do/say that distracts others?  How could you add more value in your communications?

Take the time to express the best of you without the clutter of the rest of you.