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Could Speech Habits Affect Your Image in the Workplace?

NPR InterviewEveryone knows someone who, like, talks like this. You know, like, the kind of person who ends every sentence like it’s a question? A recent program on National Public Radio talked about how speech habits like up-speak (speaking with a rising tone as though you are asking a question), vocal fry (“creaking” the ends of your words), and filler words or crutches (using words, sounds, and phrases that add no meaning to a sentence, for example, “like,” “um,” and “you know,”) can affect the way a person is perceived. Jayne Latz, President of Corporate Speech Solutions, was featured on the radio program as a guest expert, discussing how the use of these vocal trends can negatively affect your professional image in the workplace.

Last week we discussed a recent study featured in the Wall Street Journal that showed that your vocal manner is twice as important as the content of your message when others are forming an opinion of you. A study in this radio program also showed that those with vocal qualities considered “annoying” by others were significantly more likely to experience conflict in the workplace. However, some linguists make the argument that speech trends used by young people (such as the copious use of “like”) should be accepted as a natural evolution of language rather than a hindrance, and that professionals should learn to be more tolerant of the speech habits of young people, who should embrace their linguistic quirks instead of trying to change them.

While tolerance is an admirable goal, changing the way that vocal and speech habits are perceived in the workplace seems little more than wishful thinking. As the above studies have shown, people make significant judgments based on vocal and speech patterns. Whether we believe they should be accepted by corporate America or not, using certain speech habits like up-speak and filler words can project an image of immaturity, insecurity, and even unintelligence. As professional communication trainers, we here at Corporate Speech Solutions have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the professional and personal gains to be made by modifying one’s speech. While you should never try to eliminate a quality that you find important to your identity, being conscious of speech habits and developing the skills to selectively “turn them off” when necessary is an essential part of strong business communication, and can increase your clarity and confidence.

What do you think? Should people embrace speech habits like filler words and up-speak? Or is a professional environment no place for “like”s and “um”s? Join the debate in our comments section!

Follow this link to learn more and hear the audio from Jayne’s radio appearance: http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2013/04/30/31570/how-does-your-voice-affect-the-way-you-are-perceiv/

For information on the New York Based Speech and Accent Reduction services offered by Corporate Speech Solutions please Give us a call at 212-308-7725 or visit us on the web at www.corporatespeechsolutions.com.


  • Pete
    It's terrific to suggest we all embrace one another's speech habits, but the reality is that listening to someone who for example, uses "like" 10 times in 30 seconds will drive you up the wall, no matter how accomodating you're intending to be. Especially if you work with that person 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. And even if you come to accept it, will the client come to love it too? Sorry, I think we all need to make the effort to kill those bad habits.
    • Jayne Latz
      Jackson, Thank you for your great comment about the distracting filler words. I couldn't agree more. We use a barometer at Corporate Speech Solutions. Everyone can check their use or abuse by recording themselves for 1-2 minutes.There should be no greater than two words (um, uh, like, you know, basically etc) that do not add content to the message. IF you have greater than two we offer proven methods (and many blogs) to provide the techniques to reduce them. Jackson you are so correct. Too many filler words will take away from the professional message!

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