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    Welcome to Authentic Journeys - ഓതെന്റിക് ജെർനീയ്സ് - US-India Cross-Cultural Training

June 30, 2015

Filler Words: Eliminate For Clearer Communication

Quite literally, perhaps words just got in the way of really clear communication. If you really want to get people to quite literally do really amazing things, it’s better to be really, very clear about the stuff that you talk about!  

The above opening stuffs all of the words that author Shanna Mallon suggests not to use or avoid to the greatest extent to pack more punch in your communication. I would agree with her. 



Why is it important to eliminate filler words?

To answer that, let's take another look at the sentence that opened this article:

When words get in the way of clear communicationQuite literally, perhaps words just got in the way of really clear communication. If you really want to get people to quite literally do really amazing things, it’s better to be really, very clear about the stuff that you talk about!  

What if we remove the filler words?

The words just got in the way of clear communication. If you want to get people to do amazing things, it's better to be clear about what you want to talk about.

Notice any differences? 


Firstly, the updated sentence is shorter.

Secondly, the message is clearer and crisper.

Notice anything else?

Some may have noticed that the word "amazing" was not removed. Can you guess why?

In this case, the two words "amazing things" were not used as filler words. However, we can improve this by selecting more descriptive words that fit the situation, such as, "If you want to prepare your staff to chair the client meeting on a regular basis to free up your schedule...." 


In this update, I also removed and replaced the word "get." In most cases, I suggest professionals to remove forms of "get" from their vocabulary in formal situations as much as possible. Notice how the word "prepare" sounds as compared to "get?" 


Also keep in mind there will be cases that filler words are actually content words. One way to distinguish between a filler word and a content word is if the word actually has a meaning in that context, it's probably a content word. If that word is being used often, maybe where commas would normally go in a sentence or a period (full stop) to combine sentences (creating grammatically incorrect sentences), then that word is probably being used as a filler word.


How can I remove filler words from my language?

Typically, filler words are more of a problem with those I coach in conversation or spoken English and not in written English. If this is you, I recommend that you record yourself talking to your counterparts, listen back later and note down filler words and tick off how many times you say certain filler words. It will surprise you. Or, maybe it won't.

Then, after listening and noting the words, make a transcript of what you said. Then, edit out the filler words, like I did above. Notice any differences in the communication?


What strategies can you apply to move from the use of filler words to a reduction or elimination of filler words? 


What are typical filler words you have noticed? 

The ones listed in the beginning of the article are some I have noticed. However, when thinking about the clients we work with through Authentic Journeys, some common filler words are: basically, um, right, then, you know, like, so, ok, yes, and others. 

In some cases, especially with the words: ok, yes, and then ("then" is especially problematic for some Tamil speakers of English), these words are being used as a listening cue. However, when interacting with US citizens who speak English, it's wise to keep in mind that using 'ok' or 'yes' as a listening cue could be misunderstood as agreement or commitment to something (a new timeline, additional tasks that you did not expect to do, etc.). 


Use of Conjunctions and Filler Words

Another mistake many I coach make is talking (and sometimes, writing) in really long sentences. While, often times, these sentences not only have many filler words that could be removed to create a crisper message, these sentences also could be broken down into shorter, crisper sentences by removing the conjunction and saying the statements as separate sentences, assuring that when you speak, there is a clear pause where the period (full stop) would be. 

How can you identify the conjunctions in a sentence? Take a look at this handy "FANBOYS" co-ordinating conjunctions chart below. If you speak or write in long sentences where any of these words are used, try to remove the co-ordinating conjunction and restate or rewrite as two separate sentences.  




Here's an example: 
Today I was just talking with Matt, an he just told me we have to prepone the demo for the current sprint by 3 days but I just feel that by doing this we quite literally will not have enough time to complete the login page with all the features we just finalized in the last sprint.

What do you notice?



  1. The word "just" occurs more than once. In most cases, filler words will also occur more than once in a spoken interaction. 
  2. This is a really long utterance. How many words is it?
  3. It's all one sentence with a few FANBOYS in it. Which FANBOYS are in it? (Where they lie give us a clue as to how to break this up into smaller sentences.
  4. The word "propane" is bolded. For those who don't know Indian English, "propane" means to "move up the date" or "reschedule to an earlier time." If you are Indian and use the word "propane," keep in mind most Americans will not know this word. 


Before we update this utterance, take a moment and read it out loud. What do you think after hearing it? 


Before I share an update of this utterance, take a moment to write it out on your paper and try to re-write it. 


Original:

"Today I was just talking with Matt, an he just told me we have to prepone the demo for the current sprint by 3 days but I just feel that by doing this we quite literally will not have enough time to complete the login page with all the features we just finalized in the last sprint."

Update:

"Today I was talking with Matt. He let me know that we need to move up the date for the demo for the current sprint by 3 days. I feel by doing that, we will not have enough time to complete the login page with all the features we recently finalized in the last sprint." 

A few more things to note:

I changed "talked to" to "talked with." Can you guess why? "To" is more directive and one-way communication, where as "with" is two-way and collaborative. 
One of the FANBOYS removed was "but." In many cases, especially with US Americans whatever words follow "but," the listener will take it in a negative way (which is not always the case in India). Read more about why we should avoid using BUT here. 

What do you think about this post and communication strategy?  I help professionals who speak English as a Second Language to communicate more effectively and in a culturally understandable way with US Americans. I work with many professionals who work on virtual teams or on global projects where they work with US-based stakeholders. If this sounds like you and you need some help understanding the US work culture and communication style, get in touch with us to participate in coaching and consulting today!  

(Note: I help professionals like you handle the above mentioned situation- how would you talk to Matt about the new delivery date? How could you convince him of what can or couldn't be done early? This is where I help you learn how to handle these situations with confidence, tact and relationship building skills.)


Related Posts: 

Phrases to Use When You Forget What You're Talking About
Active English Demonstrates being a Team Player    
Accent, Language, Breathing and other Language Skills Promoting Clear Speech  
Learn more about run-on sentences here 


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Original post date: 6/15, Updated 5/2020

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.