Embolalia are those utterances we produce that are little more than filler, if they are any more at all. Sometimes, when they do carry meaning, the function they serve is better accomplished in more straightforward and economical ways. At other times, they can damage the relationship between the addressor and the addressees, or worse, they can harm the very image of the addressor. What are embolalia, and why do we produce them?
In their simplest forms, embolalia are monosyllabic non-words. They fill spaces. They mark time while we gather our thoughts or while we plan what we're about to say. In English, examples are "uh," "um," "er," and "eh." Some people use embolalia habitually, even though they don't need time to plan their next words. "Like" is one example often used this way.
When we hear others using embolalia, we make meaning of their use. For the simplest forms, we sometimes conclude that the addressor is "unprofessional," or lacks confidence or polish, or that the addressor is nervous or under stress. This is one reason why those who aspire to be taken seriously often try mightily — sometimes too mightily — to rid their speech of these forms.
With regard to these simplest embolalia, conclusions about professionalism or polish can be correct, but there are other possibilities. For example, some users of "uh," "um," and "er" use them consciously, by choice, to convey an impression of softness, tact, or accessibility. They want to avoid appearing too certain of themselves, or too commanding or domineering. They want to seem to be considering their words carefully, as if for the first time, when they actually know very well what they're planning to say. People who employ this deceptive strategy might also use more complex embolalia, but using "uh," "um," and "er" in this way — and doing it effectively — requires true theatrical skill.
Some more complex Some users of "uh," "um," and "er"
use them consciously, by choice,
to convey an impression of
softness, tact, or accessibilityembolalia also provide opportunities for softening impressions. Examples: "you know," "You know what?," "kind of," "kinda," "sort of," "sorta," "it seems to me that," "it seems like," "the thing is," "I mean," "stuff like that," and "things like that." These forms, like all embolalia, do provide extra time for the addressor to plan ahead, but they can also be disarming or softening, or contribute to a more familiar or humble tone if the addressor seeks such a tone.
Sadly for some users of embolalia, familiarity or humility aren't always desirable results. Addressors who seek credibility, who want to persuade the addressees, or who want the respect of addressees, would do well to avoid these forms in particular.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenWcoBZGDDlOlhHsqOner@ChacfyLVGAzImiFqXsKzoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- High Falutin' Goofy Talk
- Business speech and business writing are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled
with pretentious, overused images and puff phrases of unknown meaning. Here are some phrases that are
so common that we barely notice them.
- Obstacles to Compromise
- Compromise is the art of devising an approach acceptable to all parties. A talent for compromise is
rare. What makes finding compromises so difficult?
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- Clueless on the Concept
- When a team member seems not to understand something basic and important, setting him or her straight
risks embarrassment and humiliation. It's even worse when the person attempting the "straightening"
is wrong, too. How can we deal with people we believe are clueless on the concept?
- Reactance and Decision-Making
- Some decisions are easy. Some are difficult. Some decisions that we think will be easy turn out to be
very, very difficult. What makes decisions difficult?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Reframing Revision Resentment: II
- When we're required to revise something previously produced — prose, designs, software, whatever, we sometimes experience frustration with those requiring the revisions. Here are some alternative perspectives that can be helpful. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
- When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenoYXeebRYNOEvwhCaner@ChacSEZFdaswsNPvqaXdoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
- When we talk, listen, send or read emails,
read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person.
And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling
hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how
to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes
their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use —
a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular
emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense
involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive.
Read more about this program. Here's a date for this
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Jacksonville Baymeadows, 9300 Baymeadows
Road, Jacksonville, Florida, 32256, USA: January 15, 2018,
Monthly Meeting, Northeast Florida Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Jacksonville Baymeadows, 9300 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville, Florida, 32256, USA: January 15, 2018, Monthly Meeting, Northeast Florida Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.