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8 Ways You’re Making People Tune Out When You Speak

Source | FastCompany : By GWEN MORAN

In meetings, emails, conversations, and conference calls, business leaders spend roughly 80% of their time communicating. So, it’s a significant waste of time and resources if that communication isn’t effective. When it comes to the way we speak to others—either groups or individuals—we can often be inadvertently doing or saying things that undermine our effectiveness.

American English is typically spoken at roughly 183 words per minute, but we can listen and understand at up to 400 words per minute. The difference can lead to distraction, says speech coach Ethan F. Becker, PhD, president of the Speech Improvement Company, a speech and communications coaching firm, and author of Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage and Influence. “There are all sorts of conversations in the back of our mind,” he says. “When I add filler words or something like that, I increase the chance of miscommunication.”

Are you doing or saying things that make people tune out or distract them from your message? Here are eight common habits to avoid.


Common phrases like, “You think that’s bad? Listen to this!” could be intended to communicate a shared experience, but actually sounds dismissive of the other person’s message or experience, Becker says. That can be off-putting. Suddenly your conversation partner or audience is put in defensive mode rather than listening to your experience. It’s better to affirm that you heard the other person’s story or experience and state that you can relate because you’ve been through something similar, then tell your story, he says. Using the word “but” can have a similar effect.


Words like “um,” “you know,” or “like,” are filler words—Becker calls them “vocalized pauses”—that we tend to repeat out of habit or because of nervousness. Research his team at the Speech Improvement Company has done found that while a few instances per minute doesn’t typically deter the message, upwards of six per minute becomes increasingly distracting and makes it difficult for the listener to focus on what you have to say.

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