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Sometimes when I speak with my fellows at work, I start my sentences with "so" or "um". I don't know if this a bad behavior in business speak or not? If so, how can I get rid of those filler words?

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@Anonymous: Important distinction: business speak is speech in a business context; busines(s)peak is the lingo used in business communications, especially, written. OP, pl clarify. –  Kris Dec 13 '11 at 7:46
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5 Answers

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It's a bad speaking habit in general; however, most people do it, myself included. It takes a fair amount of practice and training to discipline one's speech. If you find yourself doing it to often, you may consider taking some lessons from a speaking coach. I suggest you watch the movie The King's Speech: even royalty have this problem.

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-1. It is not a "bad speaking habit". It is a normal speaking habit which may be undesirable in some circumstances, such as when delivering a speech. –  Colin Fine Dec 12 '11 at 14:18
    
I suppose it is bad as a habit, though not necessarily bad as a way of speaking. –  Kris Dec 13 '11 at 7:42
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Everyone does this when speaking extemporaneously. In consequence, no one notices when anyone else does it. Unless you notice other people making those almost unconscious tiny encouraging nods -- yes, please, go ahead, finish your sentence, while we're young -- don't worry about it.

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Hmm... I may be able to understand your comment if only you had nicely peppered it with a few of those phrases. :) It's clearly too bookish and bland, for use in speech at least. –  Kris Dec 13 '11 at 7:44
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Everyone does this too some extent. I doubt that anyone speaks in perfectly constructed sentences all the time. In fact, if somebody were to speak in such a way their speech would lose a lot of its character and they would in some sense appear less human.

So don't worry about it, unless your use of "filler" words is really excessive.

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It's true that everyone says "so", "um", or "now" at times while they're thinking. Nonetheless there are several other things about this practice that are true:

  • Some groups of people do it more than others. Microsoft people seem to start every sentence with "So". You may be seen as being similar to someone else who does it a lot
  • So and Now are popular when you're explaining or lecturing (so to indicate that what you're saying follows from a previous point, now to indicate you are changing topics a little) and your bosses may not appreciate feeling lectured in a conversational setting or meeting
  • People who don't use filler words (typically using silence instead) are perceived as being smarter than those who do
  • You can learn to do it less

Try this. Get some recording and editing software (eg Camtasia for Window has a free trial.) Record yourself saying something you might say at work (progress report on a project, for example.) Play it back. Carefully edit out all the so/um/ah/now. Play it again. Doesn't it sound crisper and smarter?

One of the reasons it sounds "bad" is that it reveals that you are still thinking. People who don't reveal they are still thinking sound smarter. Another reason is that it shows you are "holding the floor" while thinking - you "buzzed in" to the conversation by talking, but you don't yet have anything to say. Some people (not always consciously) find this a little rude. Interestingly, if you use silence instead of filler words, people don't get those impressions. You still get the same amount of time to think.

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+1 for making the point that it could be considered rude to "grab the focus" in a group conversation before you've even figured out what you're going to say. And that this rudeness can be perceived subconsciously, affecting your judgement of a person without you being consciously aware of the reason. –  FumbleFingers Dec 12 '11 at 17:15
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Too much is annoying, very little is a desire in formal speech, but the effort to remove such things -entirely- from your speech might be debilitating to the natural flow of your discourse.

Too much could be taken as a sign of not having thought out or said something similar already, and therefore unreasoned or unpracticed. That is, being inarticulate in speech may be taken by others as a sign of not having much practice in thought behind the ideas you are presenting.

It's not 'bad' behavior; but a lesser frequency of filler is preferred and considered more formal. But actual articulation of thought is preferred to saying something inane or illogical because you didn't give thought to the right words.

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