Help me "spit the words" out.
June 26, 2008 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions on helping me 'spit words out'?

Whenever someone greets me, or asks a question that needs a quick response, as the beginning of a conversation or interaction, I can barely say anything. Usually what comes out is garbled, mumbled or out of the blue. Somebody might say "Hey how ya doing?" and I'll reply, mumbled "good morning"-- and its 3pm. Or I'll say something unintelligible to myself. This is double worse on the phone. "how may I help you?".. the first words in the reply are garbled.. so bad, I hate talking on the phone mainly because the beginnings. After that, I'm ok, and speak confidently and clearly. Friends have made fun of me for this, so its not a self concious thing.

Do you have suggestions? I don't have time in these situations to stop and think about answers, they usually require a quick verbal acknowledgment
posted by sandmanwv to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Buy yourself some time by repeating the greeting, when appropriate, or by simply saying 'Hi' yourself. You may "pad" your answer by starting with "Well...". Also, repeat part of your answer casually, as in "Well... not bad, not bad."

Also, don't feel like you have to answer or say something almost immediately - they can wait a second, especially in cases where you are the "client".
posted by preparat at 1:29 PM on June 26, 2008

A friend of mine used to begin nearly every interaction by saying "Hey, how's it going?" or "How you feeling?" He would do this regardless of context, even in response to a direct question - "How may I help you?", "Can I have your account number?", anything. If you practice this for a while, you should be able to throw it out there with a big grin to give yourself a few seconds to think and get ready for the conversation.
posted by pocams at 1:31 PM on June 26, 2008

First pause for a few seconds, then speak slowly. I have a similar problem and I've found this to be a good technique for separating "stimulus" from "response" and treating everything as being off-the-cuff. Deliberative responses like these make you sound more confident as well!
posted by rhizome at 1:34 PM on June 26, 2008

I don't know if it will help you, but I have somewhat standard responses to common small talk questions. For example:

"How are you?" or "How's it going" or some variation
Standard Response: "Good, thanks." (even if it's not true, because let's be honest, most people don't really care when they ask that question)

It becomes so automatic that it gives you time to think about what comes next.

If I'm calling someone (I hate talking on the phone too!), I'll usually run through what I'm going to say before I call. So if they say "How can I help you?", I know I'll say "Hi, I'm calling because [whatever reason]." I'll also usually try to think about what I'll say if I get voice mail so I don't end up leaving some nonsense message.

Last but not least, don't be afraid to take a breath and gather your thoughts before responding. Worst case, say "I'm sorry?" or "Excuse me?". The person will repeat themselves, and you'll have a few more moments to formulate a sensible response :)
posted by geeky at 1:35 PM on June 26, 2008

Best answer: Somebody might say "Hey how ya doing?" and I'll reply, mumbled "good morning"-- and its 3pm. Or I'll say something unintelligible to myself.

For common phrases like this, pick a few standard responses that work in any situation and always use them. For "Hey how ya doing" say "Good, how are you?". You don't actually need to be "doing good" for this to work, you can even completely not answer their question and say "What's up?", the point is that they are saying a greeting and you need to say one back.

Also, avoid overthinking things like this. If you're at the airport and the ticket person says "Enjoy your flight" and you reflexively say "You too", it's not the end of the world, and she will know what you mean. Try not to accidently say "I love you" to end phone conversations with random people though, that can be awkward.

This is double worse on the phone. "how may I help you?".. the first words in the reply are garbled.. so bad, I hate talking on the phone mainly because the beginnings.

I also am not good at this, and for some reason sounding like an idiot seems like a bigger deal on the phone than it does in person. Anyway, I tend to plan the exact wording of what I'm going to say right before I dial. So all I have to do is rattle off my "Hi, I bought such and such product last thursday and I'd like to return it..." or whatever to start the conversation.

Again, failing at this is not the end of the world. If you sit there and say "Ummm" for a few seconds nobody is going to point and laugh at you.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:37 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Try the pause before the filler words. I do the filler words and I can't stand it. We all know I don't mean anything when I say it, so why am I wasting those words? Rhizome has it entirely right-- silence equals confidence when followed by confident speaking.
posted by ictow at 1:49 PM on June 26, 2008

On the phone, try saying "Just a moment please," and the other person will assume that you are finishing something up -- when you are simply collecting yourself and transitioning.

Relevant question: is it that you get confused or take a while to focus on the new conversation, or is it really the case that whatever it is you say -- even if scripted -- gets mangled? I have had both happen to me; may make a difference in what others recommend.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:10 PM on June 26, 2008

"Thank you for asking"

If you use this every time you're faced with such a question it will become automatic. In the beginning, you might struggle to remember to say it, but you should try to make it your first response. After a while it will become totally automatic for you, using no brain power, allowing several seconds for you to formulate a thoughtful response without an awkward silence.

How ya doin'?
Thank you for asking.........................I'm doin' good

How may I help you?
Thank you for asking..................I would like xxxxxxx
posted by Jakey at 4:42 PM on June 26, 2008

One of the best lessons I learned in speech therapy is that even though you feel like the pause before your response lasts forever, it's really not that noticeable or awkward. I used to listen to recordings of myself speaking to my speech therapist and quickly identified that trying to spit out a quick response often sounds more awkward than a longer pause.

As a stutterer I know the common advice to "just slow down" does not work, but really, don't feel the need to rush; take an extra second or two before you start to respond. Like everyone above said you should get better with some practice.
posted by kjars at 10:18 AM on June 27, 2008

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