Business Communications
Hedges, Fillers & Qualifiers

by Jacqueline Farrington

   Do you beat around the bush or do you speak with certainty? Are you clear, direct and concise or do you sound doubtful and vague? Speaking without commitment in sales is deadly because it does not urge your client to commit. Speaking with assurance and clarity ensures that you hold your listeners' valuable attention. Below are three of the most lethal verbal assassins and suggestions on how to avoid them:

Hedges

   Hedges appear at the beginnings of statements. They avoid the risk of commitment by leaving open a way of retreat for the speaker. They can belittle you by making you sound weak and as if you doubt your own words. They unnecessarily prolong your sentences. Some common hedges include:

  • 'In my opinion, I think we should.....'
  • 'Basically...'
  • 'I just think, feel, wonder, etc.'
  • 'The way I see it....'
  • 'The point is....'
  • 'I mean...'
  • 'I guess my question is....'
  • 'I'm not an expert on this but....'
  • 'I don't know anything about that but....'
  • 'The point is...'
  • 'In my opinion...'
  • 'I just want to tell/call/write you about...'
  • 'This may be only my opinion but....'
  • 'I just...'

   The key to eliminating hedges is to ask yourself, 'Are these words essential? Do they add useful information to what I am saying?' If in doubt, leave it out. Remove any word that does not add useful information.

Fillers

   Fillers are sounds, words, or phrases used to fill pauses in speaking. They create an impression of a lack of confidence by making the speaker sound hesitant, halting and uncertain of what to say next. We add fillers because we are uncomfortable with silence. We fear we will be interrupted or look silly because we cannot find the right word. Silence, however, can communicate power and control. Dynamic speakers do not need to apologize for taking the time to consider their words they know the importance of well-timed silences. Common fillers include:

  • 'Um...'
  • 'Uh....'
  • 'Y'know...'
  • 'I mean...'
  • 'That is...'

   Eliminating fillers takes two steps: First, develop an awareness of your use of them. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to alert you every time you use a filler. Get them to clap or hold up a hand to signal each occurrence in your speech. Alternatively, videotape yourself and take note of your fillers. Second, each time you use a filler, force yourself to go back and restate the thought without the added sound. Replace the filler with a breath. When you are tempted to use a filler such as 'uh', tell yourself to breathe, pause, and then choose your next word.

Qualifiers

   Qualifiers alter the strength or the meaning of what we have just said by questioning the validity of our own statement. They appear as 'tags' after a sentence and will turn clear statements of fact into feeble questions. Qualifiers take three forms: verbal, vocal or physical. Common verbal qualifiers include:

  • This is the best product, isn't it?
  • This is a great idea, don't you think?
  • We had a wonderful time, right?
  • I don't want to go there again for lunch, do y'know what I mean?
  • Our clients love this product, okay?

   Vocal qualifiers use a lift of the voice to make a statement sound like a question: 'Hi? My name is Margaret? I'm Vice-President of Sales?
   Physical qualifiers - shrugging the shoulders, casting the eyes to the floor or rolling them to the ceiling, flicking the hand away from the body - weaken our statements by using apologetic or obsequious gestures after a sentence. What message do we send when we say, "I am Vice-President of Sales and I am responsible for 24 million dollars of profit a year (shoulders shrug, eyes roll to ceiling)?
   With a small amount of awareness and practice, you can eradicate hedges, fillers and qualifiers from your speech. Speaking without these weak additions empowers you to become more commanding, influential and successful in your communications and sales.