You Dont Know You Know
April 28, 2006 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop staying "you know" when I am having professional conversations with clients.

Help me stop staying "you know" when I am having professional conversations with clients. Also, what should I replace "you know" with when I'm thinking about what to say next? For a long time I used "and" to connect two thoughts but find I have fallen back into the "you know" habit. Please don't tell me to go to Toastmasters.
posted by Xurando to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't say anything. If you don't what your next thought is, just insert silence. If you do it right, you'll look thoughtful and deliberate. You could also try talking slower and formulating your thoughts before you open your mouth. Finally, stop saying "you know" whenever you're talking to anyone at anytime, professional clients or not.
posted by clearlynuts at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2006

Think about it constantly. Put a sign up at home. Have a jar that you put $1/$5/$10 in everytime you say it and earmark it for charity.
posted by deadfather at 9:42 AM on April 28, 2006

Heh, that's exactly what I start saying when I'm tired: "you know" this and "you know" that. If it's the same for you, I suggest drinking a cup of hot chocolate or some other stimulate to wake your brain up. You know?

Works for me.

You know?
posted by rinkjustice at 9:48 AM on April 28, 2006

I'm with clearlynuts. Stop saying "you know"-period.

Having competed on and coached collegiate speech and debate teams I can say that silence works much better for pauses during speech than the alternatives.
posted by 1024x768 at 9:48 AM on April 28, 2006

The fine system worked for me as a teenager in the 60s, when "like" and "you know" were around, believe it or not. My mother hated both, and charged 25 cents per infraction. I think it took a week.
posted by beagle at 9:49 AM on April 28, 2006

Clearlynuts advice echoes what I was told during public speaking training at a Fortune 100 company. Don't be afraid of silence.
posted by alms at 9:52 AM on April 28, 2006

Have a jar that you put $1/$5/$10 in everytime you say it and earmark it for charity.

Better yet, earmark it for something you don't want to give money to -- the opposing side of the abortion or Intelligent Design debates, or your least-favorite political party, that sort of thing.
posted by mendel at 10:02 AM on April 28, 2006

Make a recording of one of these professional conversations.

Play it back and feel your self-loathing increase with each "y'know."

Then recall what clearlynuts said.
posted by Rash at 10:03 AM on April 28, 2006

Having people critique your speaking skills weekly does wonders.

posted by madajb at 10:06 AM on April 28, 2006

Wear a rubberband around your wrist. Everytime you say "you know" (outside of meetings with clients), give it a snap against your arm. You'll stop saying it within a week and a half.
posted by mikepop at 10:06 AM on April 28, 2006

Oh, and buying your coworkers a drink for every 10 "you knows" is also quite effective.
posted by madajb at 10:07 AM on April 28, 2006

Pausing for a few seconds of silence to gather your thoughs is more professional than lots of 'ums' 'ahs' 'you know what I means' .

I'm in Toastmasters, and we have someone click everytime those 'filler' words are used when presenting. It works because the clicker is LOUD and anxiety inducing. Evil clicker.

Its good that you're cognizant of the fact that you're saying it. Just being aware I was saying "like" (and going nuts hearing other people say it) helped me get out of the habit.
posted by delladlux at 10:08 AM on April 28, 2006

When I was younger, my mom tried to break me of my habit of saying "like" every few words (it was the late 80's/early 90's). I wore a rubber band and snapped it against my wrist everytime I did it. It's Pavlovian, but it works.
posted by MeetMegan at 10:25 AM on April 28, 2006

I picked up 'like' and 'you know' when I moved to the States - and it drove me nuts when I realized it. I think the only way to get rid of these speech tics is to be conscious of your speech 24/7 - ie, you will get rid of thm from your professional speaking by banning them from all of your speaking. Good luck! i still, like, slip some days, but it gets easier after awhile.
posted by sperare at 10:31 AM on April 28, 2006

Don't stop there!

Why not also include such 'favorites' as:

"or somethin' "

" guys"

" know"

"...and stuff like that"

It's called a 'verbal crutch'.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:40 AM on April 28, 2006

...and yes, silence *always* sounds better than a verbal crutch

/pet peeve
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:40 AM on April 28, 2006

Just a note to encourage you that's it's possible. I have a lot of these conversational tics, but way back in the day when I was a commercial AM radio disc-jockey it was only a matter of days before I eliminated them entirely. Because I wanted to. Because I needed to.

You already know you can and probably do moderate your speech—profanity is an example. A lot of profanity is not unlike these conversational tics and yet most people are able to avoid them when necessary. "You know" is not that much different.

On reflection, I do think it's a bit different because it's to some degree serving a rhetorical/social function for you by providing the patina of interactivity. And you're probably thinking about and structuring your sentences, to some degree, with that interactivity signal enmeshed.

Nevertheless, I'd still bet you that you'll find it easier than you expect to change this.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:01 AM on April 28, 2006

I'm at constant battle with my verbal tics. I second/third the suggestions of the thoughtful silence - when speaking with someone I don't know very well, I slow down my speech, and when I feel a tic coming on, I just stop talking, figure out what I want to say and move on. I've stopped worrying about the silence - I don't know if it makes me personally look thoughtful, but I've noticed the silence does add a gravity to others.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:03 AM on April 28, 2006

I killed 'umm' and 'aaah' from my vocabulary slowly while I was in high school. These are crutch words. Things that get us from one thought to the other without an awkward (to us) silence that might let someone steal the floor from us or interject.

Start by noticing when you say them after the fact. So you're aware of how often it comes up. If you're thinking about stopping, you're probably already doing this. If you can't even manage this step, engage the people around you to point them out subtley, using a pre-arranged signal.

Then try to notice a little early. Recognize that the 'you know' is coming by the time you finish 'you'. Stop. Right in the middle of it. (Yes, you will sound like an idiot.) Start talking again when you know what you actually want to say, which, presumably is not 'you know'. This is usually a relatively short stage, but there is a certain potential for embarassment. If you decide not to practice this in important client situations, it'll take longer for it to finally take hold, but you can just do it while you're in safer environments, like home or with friends.

After you've done this for awhile, you'll start to catch the 'you knows' before they come out of your mouth, and get short pauses in your conversation where they otherwise would have been.

(I learned this technique when I was in Toastmasters' Youth Leadership Program, and teach it to my students in Toastmasters' YL and speechcraft classes, though, so it might not be what you want to hear.)
posted by jacquilynne at 11:04 AM on April 28, 2006 [7 favorites]

Some people are afraid of just being silent because they think it might make them look slow, or dumb.
Like everyone else in this thread, I think silence is better than filler, even on the phone.

What works for me is what deadfather said. Just think about it all the time. Be mindful and self-conscious about your words- not just the filler, but all your words. This will help you craft your sentences.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:10 AM on April 28, 2006

Or, for an extra stage in jacquilynne's suggestion (in case people in your meeting think the rubber band alternative is odd), once you're aware you're doing it, just make a small tally on a piece of note paper each time you catch yourself saying it.
posted by penguin pie at 11:18 AM on April 28, 2006

For me it is the rate of speech. I find that if I am concentrating on speaking slowly with clear enunciation (I'm a chronic mumbler), it is easier to stop the verbal crutches.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:02 PM on April 28, 2006

I was cured of that habit when I was given a transcript of myself talking and had to see all those "you know"s written down.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2006

Thanks for this question! I have the same problem, you know? An ex of mine told me she thought it was from low self esteem, you know? Like, I needed the other person to validate what i was saying? Or ending a sentence as a question?

I don't know if she was right, but all of these answers are helpful over here too.
posted by indiebass at 1:02 PM on April 28, 2006

Practice outside of work. A way that worked for me (I said "like" too often) was that I had a friend I hung around with on a daily basis charge me ten cents everytime I said it. A few dollars later, I've ridded myself of the habit. (Of course, if you want to up the tally a little, that's at your own discretion. I was a poor high school kid.)
posted by itchie at 1:12 PM on April 28, 2006

This is a little off the topic of "you know", which is a phrase which rarely seems helpful, but the occasional "uh" and "um" aren't as evil as some people are making them out to be.

This article in the New York Times shows that "um" and "uh" actually can convey some meaning. I don't have a reference, but I seem to remember that people with a larger vocabulary use verbal pauses more frequently, with the theory being that they've got a slightly longer search time to find just the right word.

Of course excessive "um" and "uh" usage is distracting, as you're basically signalling "please wait, processing" every time. But if you're honestly unprepared for the question, I can see some benefit to signaling the verbal equivalent to the "hourglass" icon.
posted by IvyMike at 1:23 PM on April 28, 2006

Oh dear lord, don't even get me started on people who end their declarative statements like a question.

I *always* respond with "Are you telling me or asking me?"

I know it's prejudiced of me, but that is something I just can't stand. When people make statements that end as questions, I feel that they are only about 75% as smart as when they walked into the room.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:13 PM on April 28, 2006

Not to kibosh this advice, but it doesn't work in all contexts...the thoughtful pause is great in person, but can cause problems on the phone.

I know this because my uncontrollable verbal tic is pausing, and I get a lot of "hello?" if I'm silent for even a half second.

Perhaps work on replacing your "you knows" with unfilled pauses in person, and try to convert phone business-relationships to e-mail ones, where possible? I suspect it'll take a mixture of approaches to work.
posted by sarahkeebs at 10:17 AM on April 21, 2007

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