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.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 3: Capability Inversions and the Dunning-Kruger Effect
- A capability inversion occurs when the person in charge of an effort is far less knowledgeable about the work involved or its purpose than are the people doing that work. In capability inversions, the Dunning-Kruger effect can intensify group dysfunction, sometimes severely disrupting the effort. Available here and by RSS on June 3.
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- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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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.