Xed*, a friend didn't receive an important package because of a delivery muck up. She was upset and rightfully angry. When she used words like "How dare they..." "I will teach them a lesson" "I'll make sure the agent loses their job..." for the umpteenth time, I couldn't bear to listen to it any more. I pointed out that "teaching them a lesson" is not as important as figuring out how she could get her hands on the package.
Xed was not only taken aback, but seriously offended. She wanted me to use words like I feel, I think, in my humble opinion, sort of, kind of, etc. These are filler words. Of course, being at the receiver's end is terrible, so I apologised to her and evaluated my choice of words, and her suggestion to use filler words.
Do you know what happens when you use filler words? The value of your opinion diminishes, and you sound less authoritative. So even when you're pointing out a mistake, it makes the other party want to hear you out. A classic technique that hinges on using self-doubt to get a point across. In situations where you don't use filler words, the intonation and pauses make up for it. The sound of the statement also seems like a question.
There's a term for this kind of talking: upspeak, or uptalk.
Watch the video below to understand what upspeak/uptalk is:
Janan Ganesh from the Financial Times makes an interesting point about upspeak in how to talk your way to the top.
I have seen enough meetings, parties, job interviews, broadcast slots, panel events and dates to sense which habits of speech harm a person’s standing with others, sometimes without either side quite knowing it. They include the filler words “like” and, in England, “sort of”, often pronounced, with nervous speed, “siddiv”. They include starting a sentence with, “I guess . . . ” and ending it with, “Does that make sense?” They include, above all, the interrogative tone in non-interrogative statements.
What links these familiar but far from exhaustive examples is their disclosure of self-doubt. And not the endearing kind. “Like” stems from a deep fear of pauses, lest the other person stops listening. Upspeak is a constant probing for approval. These tics are all the worse in a non-American as they suggest a further, almost meta lack of confidence: that in one’s own culture.
"Upspeak is a constant probing for approval."
Or... in my humble opinion, seeks to please everyone at the table. 😉
The language you use when you think of a situation matters a lot. It changes how you approach the situation, and how you feel about yourself. I dislike watering my thoughts down, and prefer to sound confident. Women are constantly expected to sound less confident, less authoritative, less opinionated. I don't want to seek approval for anything. I want to be accepted for who I am, not for who I am not.
For someone that has used upspeak for far too long and has worked hard on her ability to talk clearly, using upspeak feels like a thing of the past. So, am I going to incorporate Xed's suggestion? Absolutely not.
What about you? Would you incorporate it in your speech?
*Name changed to protect identity.