Let’s talk about unconscious behaviors.
Do you say Um, Like, So, I think? Kind of, Just, Uh, I mean? Does that make sense? Oh, sorry. You may be saying these things and not even realizing it.
Unconscious behaviors are the habitual tics and filler words that are ingrained in our default way of speaking. We all have our own unique combination on unconscious behaviors. Most of the time we’re completely unaware of them, but getting them under control can be key when considering how to have presence. They come from conditions in our environment, past experiences, nerves or Impostor Syndrome. They are how we compensate, they get in the way of effective communication skills, and they amplify under pressure.
What if I want to say Like?
You can say Like as much as you like (see what I did there?)—as long as you are intentional about it. There’s nothing wrong with apologizing, or saying Just—just make sure you are aware of it and use it with purpose. Behaviors without intention have a tendency to undermine our authority and can create an unclear outward perception.
Unconscious behaviors may be fine in casual, everyday conversation but when public speaking or working on presentation skills they can greatly detract from your message.
My own personal cocktail of unconscious behaviors include Absolutely!, Does that make sense? and So (listen to the Real Simple Adulthood Made Easy podcast where we talk all about it). What are your unconscious behaviors?
Kind of, Just, I think, Does that make sense? Habitual but often employed when we doubt ourselves. We give ourselves an out in case we’re not right.
You know, Uh, Um, Like. Environmental and ingrained, and sometimes unconscious imitation.
I’m sorry, etc. We apologize with our physicality and tone too—read my article on it here.
Smiling is awesome but for some people it is a nervous reaction and can be anything but fun.
So, um, what do we do about it?
You won’t be able to change a thing while those behaviors remain unconscious so the first step is to become aware of them. Working to improve your communication and presentation skills can raise your awareness enough to see them. Record yourself, or ask a trusted friend to be an outside eye (they can raise their hand—without judgment—whenever they hear you say it). Once you can hear it, you can change it, but there’s no point in beating yourself up until you can—we’re changing lifelong behaviors after all!
Once you can hear it, you can do something else instead. It’ll be slow and steady but replacing it with a physical behavior—without judgment—will do the trick. Take a deep breath, or move your attention to your feet on the floor. Make eye contact. You can choose any physical behavior that works for you as long as it helps to ground you and is done with intention. When you notice those unconscious behaviors sneak in, don’t get mad at yourself. This is the work of changing habits. Be curious, not furious.
Personally, I replace my filler with a deep breath. Taking a deep breath makes me feel grounded and helps my voice carry further. It’s a win-win situation.
And there’s nothing as powerful as silence (when used intentionally, of course).