Does this make sense?
August 13, 2019 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Is there another way of saying "Does that make sense?" or has anyone successfully trained themselves to stop saying it? I find myself saying it a lot and horrifyingly it's rubbing off on some junior members of my team. But I hate this saying! I hate it when people say this because it sounds like they're questioning my intelligence and ability to follow simple directions. And yet I keep saying it to others! How can I stop?

I think that I keep saying it because I come from a place where people talk fast, and when I'm thinking and talking on the fly, it's hard to also control the speed so thoughts just kind of tumble out (see also: This incredibly run-on sentence). Then there's a couple of seconds of silence as the listeners try to figure out what I just said, and I guess that pause makes me uncomfortable because I'm also from a place where you get a lot of conversational feedback (like small little agreements while you're talking to let you know they're following you). So then, not having gotten any feedback, and drowning in silence, I say it. I say it because I'm honestly not sure if what I said made any sense to them.

I know that a better fix would be to slow down and try to say things better, and it makes me look weak to invite the group to question me like that and is something men don't generally do.

I did Toastmasters once and that helped me a lot to stop saying "UM" when what I really want to do is take a pause - I do that now, I just take a pause. Except when my brain doesn't need a pause and then I just keep barreling on even if the listeners need a pause.

So, does any of this make sense? Other than just re-doing my whole brain, how do I stop saying this stupid thing NOW?
posted by bleep to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'd try generalizing to: "What do you think?", or "What do you think about this?"

Fortunately the best way to train yourself out of a reflexive catch phrase is to be conscious about it for a few weeks, and actively avoid saying it. It may seem hard now, but it's very possible.
posted by Citrus at 7:48 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

I know that a better fix would be to slow down and try to say things better

That would be good, but I think what you're going to have to learn is that silence is part of speech. That pause that happens as everyone unpacks everything you just rattled off is a normal healthy processing time and people don't need to feel rushed through it no matter how you phrase the prompt.

Practice taking a few breaths while the punters catch up -- they'll be happier and you will too.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:54 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

When I ask that question I’m usually concerned I didn’t explain clearly enough, so I’ll often preface it by voicing that as my concern. E.g.: “I’m not sure if I explained that very well. Did that all make sense?”
posted by deludingmyself at 8:02 PM on August 13 [9 favorites]

I do this too, and it's always when I'm trying to shove every little nuance, qualification, and ramification into one spew of words. Why? Because I'm trying to anticipate all possible objections.

I try to remember that conversation is interactive. I don't need to say everything at once. I can say one thing, wait for a response, then say another thing. If I get an objection I already anticipated, fine. It shows my conversational partner is tuned in and responding.
posted by mono blanco at 8:06 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]

Citrus' and deludingmyself's advice is good for finding alternative phrases to segue into a response.

As Tell Me No Lies said, silence is a part of speech, but another part of communication in a conversation is all that non-verbal stuff. Just IME, some of the people I know who really struggle with leaving silent bits in a conversation are often those who aren't picking up on non-verbal conversational feedback. Some of this is probably related to cultural differences surrounding how people take turns in conversation; in other cases I can tell they're probably not reading their interlocutor well because they seldom make eye contact. Body language and facial expressions are important tools for being able to tell whether someone's following along with you. The more you're able to pay attention to them, the less you may feel compelled to keep talking.
posted by blerghamot at 8:16 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]

Give your brain something else to do. While your listeners are processing what you've just said, take a beat and mentally

-- catalog what they're wearing (not judgmentally, just observationally)
-- briefly review the task list you write every morning
-- go over your foreign-language vocabulary cards

or whatever will keep you from talking and distracting them from that processing.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:20 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]

You have a fear of silence. Is it justified? I'm assuming it was where you are from and is not where you are now.

Learn to use non-verbal ways of maintaining the floor (eye contact, posture, gestures, etc) and just bite your tongue -- literally, when you come to the end of your statement, just bite your tongue and bite it hard enough to bleed if you just can't stop talking until you reflexively wince whenever the phrase "does this make sense?" appears in your mind.

And slow down! Put it on a note card and hold it while talking. Write it on the inside of glasses you are wearing. Write down what you are going to say in a meeting ahead of time and say it in your head, slowly, imagining you are in the room.
posted by flimflam at 8:21 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]

“Any questions?”
posted by sageleaf at 8:32 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]

Answering your first question: there are lots of ways! From formal to informal, across many cultures and contexts:

(Ya) dig?
Feel me?
Know’m sayin?
Got it/that?
Are we all on the same page here?
Any questions?
Let me know if anything is unclear
Stop me if I say something confusing to you
Do we have buy-in on this?
Can you sign off on this?
Do we have an understanding?
Catch my drift?

It’s not necessarily a horrible thing to verbally ask if people are understanding you; words and what they mean are still a pretty big part of spoken communication.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:34 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]

So far so good?

Just not as often as my first quarter Chem teacher said it. I counted 40-something times in an hour long class
posted by sacrifix at 8:54 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]

I try to say things like, "Does that sound right so far?" or "Am I still on the right track?"
posted by Lyn Never at 9:46 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]

Phrases of the nature of 'is there anything you'd like me to clarify' are less 'I'm sorry for explaining that badly and more 'I explained that, and now I want to know what more details you need to fully get what I'm saying' - approaches along those lines seem less apologetic and more problem-solvey. The sense should be along the lines of 'I've been doing this a while now and what is clear to me it might not yet be clear to you'.

More for personal 1:1 meetings, you can try and get them to reading back to you in their own words, which is a recommended way to ensure the message was understood. If they can use the information to reason out consequences, that is another way to test understanding.

'Okay' while talking may not be 'okay I understand', it may be verbal shorthand for 'keep going, I want to see if the picture becomes clear' and does not always imply understanding.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:17 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

"Let me know if you have questions" is what is suggested by @danidonovan's handy E-MAIL LIKE A BOSS chart.
posted by painquale at 11:44 PM on August 13 [8 favorites]

When your audience hear you say "Does this make sense?" - do they expect you to pause and solicit the opinion of each of them? Do you? If not then the phrase is phatic ; a polite way to indicate "I've stopped speaking to create a brief pause - to give your ears a rest and me some time to think of what I'm going to say next".

There is nothing wrong in using phatic expressions in informal, everyday conversations: it shows politeness for your listeners, it creates a gap they can jump into if they have something urgent to say and it indicates to them that you are pausing to gather your thoughts on what to say next. You could use one of the alternatives suggested above, if you wanted.

For more formal environments, presentations to larger audiences and speeches for example, the rules are a little different. If you reflexively say things like "Does this make sense?" as fillers in these circumstances then, as you say, you can end up sounding unsure of yourself and not convincing. Strategies to prevent this:
1. Hear yourself: Watch a playback or just be aware of what you are using as fillers.
2. Try to break down what you are saying into chunks comprising a small number of sentences.
3. Make eye contact with your audience; it is harder to use filler expressions when you are concentrating on a particular person.
4. Plan what you are going to say and include transition phrases such as "let's move on..."
5. Use silences: they are the power tool of good speaking: short silences to break up sentences, longer ones to allow a thought to sink in or to transition between ideas.
6. Tell your audience when you want them to ask you questions. Is it OK for them to interrupt you or should they wait till the end? The latter is probably a better option for you and your audience.
posted by rongorongo at 11:58 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]

I like "Let me know if you have questions" because it's a statement, not a question. I find it exhausting and annoying when someone expects immediate feedback as they are talking -- to me that feels like putting the listener on the spot, and implying that if they don't raise any objections right now then they've lost their chance to ask for clarification and they can't do it later without looking like an idiot.

And the best time to ask for clarification is later, when you're halfway through doing the thing and have hit some kind of unexpected snag, not while someone is talking to you and you haven't fully absorbed the information yet and you have no way of knowing if you actually have all the information you need. "Let me know if you have questions" is an open-ended invitation for the listener to ask follow-up questions later, which is much more helpful.

FWIW I don't think "does this make sense?" is an implied insult to the listener; I've always read it as self-deprecation ("am I explaining this in a good way?"). In addition to the logistical objections I have to constant feedback prompts, I find them mildly annoying because they make the speaker sound overly needy and insecure. But that may be me reading too much into it.

(@mono blanco, I used to do that alllllll the time in emails, which led to the simplest email taking a literal hour to write as I found myself walking an entire simulated conversation tree. I've trained myself to stop that.)
posted by confluency at 2:18 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]

FWIW I also say "does this make sense?" (often at the end of an email) and as others have said I do not at all mean it as a statement about the listener's/reader's intelligence but as a way to check if I have explained clearly and often to genuinely whether they think my idea or suggestion is reasonable. Alternate phrases I sometimes use for this are "Does this sound reasonable?" or the more open ended "what do you think"?

This doesn't help with the question of silence but maybe the alternate interpretation and alternate phrases are useful.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:43 AM on August 14

Is everything clear?
Let me know if you have any questions.
posted by emd3737 at 5:22 AM on August 14

I try to break this down the the previously suggested "what questions do you have?" if I'm explaining things, and "how does that sound?" if I'm suggesting something. I sometimes go with "how'd I do?" on things that feel more like teaching.
posted by advicepig at 7:29 AM on August 14

Make it self-deprecating. "Am I going too fast? Sometimes I do that!"
posted by blahtsk at 10:36 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]

Just as a counter point to your feelings on the phrase, I always take this to mean "I'm not sure if I explained this well, let me know if/how I can clarify" and not AT ALL "I'm questioning your ability to follow simple directions." that being said, I'm sure it can come across differently and maybe it does if you say it a lot (and you just want to stop saying it!) So:

1. Learn to be comfortable with the silent beat. Think of it in terms of negotiating where being silent after you say your piece is often an advantage but people shoot themselves in the foot because they have the need to fill the silence. It takes practice but it can be done. Also just remember it is probably their processing time - give them a second to think and put together what you've just told them!
2. "Let me know if you have any questions" or just "any questions?"
3. "sound good?"
4. "What can I help with" or "what can a clarify"
posted by sillysally at 12:49 PM on August 14

If you are actually intending to check for understanding, asking your audience to summarize (an affirmative active task) might be better than asking if they have questions.
posted by gregglind at 6:53 AM on August 15

If I am trying to gather more information, or make sure what I am instructing comports with previous things, I will say, "Does that track with your understanding?"

Agree with previous posters if you are not seeking additional information, but just want to make sure they feel comfortable and are comprehending, "Let me know if you have any questions" fits the bill.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 9:28 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

I used to ask, "Are you still with me?" while making sure there aren't any glazed eyes around the room. If somebody seemed like they didn't quite get it, you can then ask if that person (or anyone else) had questions.
posted by dancinglamb at 10:14 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

Ever since posting this question my use of this phrase has gone down 99-100% thanks to all of your kind advice.
posted by bleep at 8:50 PM on August 21

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