Are You Asking People to Ignore You?

Oh, not in so many words.

But are you:

  • Trailing off at the end of your sentences?
  • Prefacing your ideas with “This probably won’t work, but…”?
  • Inflecting your voice up at the end of each sentence?  So that even a statement of fact comes out sounding like a question?
  • Thinking faster than you talk so that you leap from one idea to the next without a connecting statement to bring others along?
  • Adding “I don’t know…” to the end of your ideas?
  • Asking “What do you think?” after every opinion you express?
  • Inserting more than one “um” or “like” fillers into each sentence?
  • Looking down the table or your lap while you talk?

Any of these verbal tics send the message that you can be ignored.  That you’re not really sure of what you’re saying, so why should anyone else be?

We all stumble over phrases sometimes, or try to say something and have it come out mangled or inarticulate.   You can survive that.  But what you can’t survive is a consistent pattern of downplaying yourself.   If you always ‘qualify’ your contributions with ‘This may be dumb, but–“ or “I’m not sure about this, but–“, pretty soon the people who listen to you will stop listening.

You can train yourself out of any of these habits, and the payoff is pretty huge.  If you dread public speaking, it’s hard to go from there to loving it — but it’s relatively much easier to train yourself out of ending sentences with a question intonation, or replacing “um” with a deliberate pause.

And the payoff is amazing – this is like Stupid Human Psychology Tricks 101 – getting rid of these verbal tics is like automatically getting credit for being 20% smarter.   Watch for it the next meeting you’re in – and better yet, use this one for yourself.

4 thoughts on “Are You Asking People to Ignore You?

  1. Cindy, this is such a great post.

    I’ve noticed “uptalk” (#3) a lot. I noticed it even more after reading this NYT article: As the article suggests, uptalk seems to be particularly popular with young women.

    The article suggests that “rises [in intonation] may be used as a probe of sorts, to see if the hearer is getting what you are saying.” That makes a certain amount of sense to me, especially when the hearer already takes you seriously.

    But I do think that if the hearer doesn’t already respect you, uptalk can undermine your status and hence encourage the hearer to ignore your ideas.

    Also, when you’re giving a speech, it’s more of a broadcast than a conversation, so the value of a “probe” to a single listener is pretty low.

  2. It’s a tough balance.  Too much pausing/probing to make sure your listener ‘gets it’ is perceived as weak.  But I’ve also worked with folks who keep blasting their point, oblivious to the fact that their audience is confused (or bored).  

    I think of it this way: meetings are usually boring.  People tune out.  An upward-intonation can prompt them back into the conversation, but it’s also too easy for them to simply nod.  

    I try to mix in questions that are not yes/no questions (“How would you see that working?” or “What hesitations would you have if we did this?”, which force people to engage more or allow them to admit that they tuned out so I can catch them back up.  

  3. This is a great post. I am guilty of many of these…even though I know full well what I’m talking about. This is a good reminder of things to constantly be working. Thanks!  

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