Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 21;   May 22, 2013: Embolalia and Stuff Like That: Part II

Embolalia and Stuff Like That: Part II

by

Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases — let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content, even when what they contain is little more than "um."
A black kite, a species of hawk

A black kite (Milvus migrans), a species of hawk. It has recently been discovered that high-status mated pairs of black kites "decorate" their nests using bits of plastic. (See Brandon Keim's article, "Hidden Messages Found in Bird Nest Decorations," at wired.com.) A few bird species had been known to use decoration as a mate attraction tactic, but this recently discovered behavior is different. Although the decorations don't contribute much to nest structure, they do seem to be used to communicate pair fitness.

Analogously, although some embolalia do serve purposes related to the content of the speech — such as giving the addressor time to formulate content and delivery — many seem also to be "decorative." That is, they communicate power or status rather than content-related information. For example, a phrase such as "Many people do subscribe to that thesis, but there is little hard data to support it. Let me explain" is probably longer than needed if collecting one's thoughts is the purpose. Decorative embolalia could be serving a more useful purpose, such as status assertion or differentiation. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In last week's issue, we began an exploration of embolalia — the filler we use in everyday speech, to help us gain time to gather our thoughts, or to soften our tone. We focused on the simplest forms — "uh," "um," "er," and so on, and short phrases such as "kind of" and "stuff like that." This time we turn our attention to forms of embolalia so complex that we don't recognize them as filler, even though they contribute nothing to the speaker's message.

The simplest of these are introductory embolalia, which tend to appear at the beginning of the address. They include "actually," "basically," "anyway," "honestly," "seriously," and "well." President Reagan was known for his use of "well." Some of these also have a softening effect, but they convey other messages, too. For instance, "actually," can be condescending, "seriously" can close a humorous interlude, and "anyway" can be a means of rejecting contradiction.

The real experts in using embolalia can make them sound formal, powerful, and valuable, even when they're nothing more than high-falutin' "ums." In this category, President Nixon was known for "Let me say this about that." Examples:

  • You have to understand
  • That's a great question; Excellent question
  • Ah, but there's a hitch
  • You might think so, but…
  • It's not The real experts in using embolalia
    can make them sound formal,
    powerful, and valuable, even
    when they're nothing more
    than high-falutin' "ums"
    that simple
  • On the one hand; On the other hand
  • Needless to say; It goes without saying
  • Let me be (perfectly) clear
  • Let me say this (about that)
  • I just want to say (this)
  • All I'm saying is (this)
  • I would say this
  • I would (will) tell you that (something)
  • I have to say; I must say
  • Let me just make a couple of points
  • Could I just mention one other thing
  • That's a fascinating point
  • The bottom line is
  • At the end of the day
  • One of the problems was (is)
  • My own view is
  • The fact (truth) is that

The most complex embolalia are rarely noticed, even though they're common in everyday conversation. About 30 minutes of news programming on U.S. television yielded these examples:

  • The general problem we seem to be having is
  • There are three reasons (or two or whatever)
  • You might think so at first, but if you give it a little thought you realize that something much more complicated is going on
  • I believed that myself when I first looked into this matter
  • We can rule out that possibility easily, for three reasons
  • Nothing could be further from the truth
  • Many people do subscribe to that thesis, but there is little hard data to support it. Let me explain.

Are any of these examples familiar to you from your own speech? If they are, shorter alternatives will increase the impact of your words. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Managing Hindsight Bias Risk  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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 welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenKiDVwdMhAGHxyXjbner@ChacuPlHIJLpNeEELdReoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

View of Mt. St. HelensOwn Your Space
Since we spend so much of our waking lives in our offices, it's surprising how few of us take control of our immediate surroundings. If you do — if you make your space uniquely yours — you'll feel better about the time you spend at work.
A bookshelfSmart Bookshelves
If you like to browse in bookstores, you probably know the thrill of new ideas and new perspectives. When I find a book worth reading, I want to own it, and that's how it gets to my shelf. Here are some tips to help you read more of what you really want to read.
The Samuel Morse Telegraph ReceiverRemote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part III
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
Six kids on a PlayPumpThe Questions Not Asked
Often, the path to forward progress is open and waiting, but we don't recognize it, or we convince ourselves it isn't there. Learning to see what we believe isn't there is difficult. Here are some reasons why.
A particularly complicated but well-ordered utility poleThe Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: Part II
Complex organizational processes can delay action. They can set people against one other and prevent organizations from achieving their objectives. In this Part II of our examination of these complexities, we look into what keeps processes complicated, and how to deal with them.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenzAEFvuzYnOyoyTlnner@ChacwtSCCVNFvJMUwiTroCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Technical Debt: A Workshop for Enterprise Leaders
TechnTechnical Debt Management for Enterprise Leadersical debt is more than mere IT jargon. It's a metaphor that refers to the accumulation of technical artifacts that really ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, re-implemented, or, if absent, created. We can find technical debt in almost any system, including those that seem to be working well. So what's the problem? The problem is the "interest charges." Systems carrying technical debt are more difficult to maintain, more difficult to extend or enhance, and more difficult to use, than they would be if we "retired" the debt. This engaging and eye-opening program points the way to a path that leads your organization out of technical debt, to make it more adaptable, more transformable, and more agile. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.