Social Skills Series #16: Like, Like, Like

Like, seriously. If your kid is, like, using “like” every four or five words, they might, you know, like sort of benefit from trying to express themselves without the crutch of meaningless words.

“Um” and “uh” are also filler syllables, but “like,” “you know,” and “sort of” are more recent additions to the infuriating lexicon of words that serve absolutely no function in a sentence.

On second thought, I take that back: they do serve a function, which is to tone down the message. If you’re nervous or unsure of yourself, using “like” and “sort of,” or equivalents such as “or whatever” or “a little bit,” makes you noncommittal. It absolves you from responsibility for your message. It usually indicates insecurity – fear of being wrong, or being judged, or offending someone – and often occurs alongside the rising inflection which makes every statement sound like a question. (See last week’s instalment on Inflection.)

You might think I’m reading too much into this, and that while overuse of “like” and other filler words might not be the best speech habit, I go too far when I call it a marker of insecurity. If that’s what you think, humour me and try the following experiment.

Experiment first on yourself. When you speak, if you hear yourself peppering your sentences with noncommittal filler words, stop. Start again, slowly if necessary, and leave the filler words out. Then ask yourself these questions: Did I sound more confident? Did I feel more confident?

Next, experiment on your child. If they are using filler words, stop them. (Or wait until they complete their thought, if you think that will get a better result.) Ask them to repeat the same thought “again, without the like.” When they have finished, tell them that they sound more confident. (I am confident in my prediction that they will.) Then ask them: Did they feel more confident?

It is well known that speaking with confidence, even if it’s feigned at first, helps to promote genuine confidence. Conversely, speaking in a noncommittal fashion can undermine a person’s self-confidence. So, if you have been doing last week’s homework and resisting the urge to turn statements into questions, let’s add this into the mix: eliminate noncommittal filler words from your speech.

I’d like to conclude this article with a shout-out to Jan Hollingsworth, founder of Journeys Inc. and Business Communication instructor at the Chiu School of Business. I took her class this fall, and she does not hesitate to interrupt you and say “again, without the like.” Come back next Wednesday (January 2) for the conclusion to this five-part miniseries on paralanguage.

Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills.