Like Um 2Ever wonder why it’s so hard to eliminate those “uhs,” “ums” and other annoying non-words that punctuate your spoken communication?


Most likely, you don’t hear them.


So say Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, lecturers at Harvard Law School and authors of the new book, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.


According to the authors, when we listen to others, we hear more than just the words. We keenly pick up on volume, tone, pitch, speed and inflection. There’s a specific part of the brain, located near the ear, that decodes those sounds and gives them meaning.


But when we talk, that part of the brain shuts down. So instead of listening to the sound of our own voice, we’re focusing on what we mean – what we’re trying to say. (This is one reason people are so surprised to hear how they sound the first time they hear a recording of their voice.)


The first step toward correcting the non-word problem is recognizing that you have it. One strategy is to listen to a recording of yourself. Then, during a spoken communication, focus both on what you’re saying and how you sound. This takes some practice, but if you can occasionally, consciously monitor more than what you’re saying, you can begin to hear how you sound, and reduce, if not eliminate, those pesky filler words.