The words we choose matter.  They are powerful conveyors of ideas and emotions.  We are aware of the fact when writing Mission and Vision Statements, but we may lose sight of their importance in our more casual interchanges. It’s the little words that can move us forward or trip us up. The words that we use or don’t use effect how we are perceived and received. When we are in a hurry to get to what’s next we have a tendency to drop what used to be called “social niceties.” It results in diminished civility that can cost us in our relationships.

Maybe it’s because we communicate more through texts and other electronic media, but I’ve noticed “please” is disappearing from many interactions. If we are approaching someone to assist them, we probably say, “please,” but all too often when working with others, we are quick to move to “Could you” or “Would you” without introducing the request with “Please.”

A small word yet changes the tone of the conversation. There is a difference between, “Can I have a word with you?” and “Please, may I have a moment of your time?” Once we put “please’ first, it changes how the rest of the sentence goes.  “Please” recognizes you are making a request of someone and acknowledges their right to refuse.  The good news is, when asked politely, most people won’t refuse.  Civility smooths the path.

If you remember to use “please,” it is natural to then say “Thank you” at the conclusion of the conversation. “Thanks” is not quite as good, but both show you appreciate what the other person has done or agreed to do. Either are far better than “great” which is how we too often close our conversations. This acknowledges the situation not the person. Again, a subtle but important difference.

You also want to use “thank you” when having been given a compliment and stopping there. There is a tendency to return a compliment.  This has the result of diminishing the ‘thank you,” as well as the compliment, reducing it into “I’m saying this because you said something nice.”  When you simply accept the praise, you show you value it.

After “thank you” easily comes “you’re welcome.” It’s gracious and acknowledges someone’s gratitude.

Just as there are words which improve your communication, there are the small words that detract from your impact.  These are the ones we insert unthinkingly and tend to be personal conversation idiosyncrasies. For example, you may have a tendency to use “actually” to introduce something. If you overuse it, it can sound like a contradiction. “For what it’s worth” is a filler that can make it sound as though what you are offering isn’t of value. Listeners may discount what you say over time. Tune into yourself to hear if there are phrases you use repeatedly. 

For other filler phrases (both spoken and written) Grammarly discusses What Are Filler Words and How You Can Cut Them. It’s worth reviewing. The more you eliminate filler words, the easier it is for readers and listeners to focus on the point you are making.

In being aware of and using the social niceties, you show the small touches of caring for others that make people enjoy working with you. It shows that despite the pressures and stress we’re under, you are mindful of what your colleagues and students mean to you. You take the time to show they matter. By dropping filler words, your communication is clearer, and your relationships are likely to be stronger.  You put yourself and your program in the best possible light by being mindful of both.

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