If you want to improve your communication skills in English, there might be a few things that need your attention. In this lesson I’m sharing ten bad communication habits to avoid when speaking English. The first step is to notice which of these habits you might currently have and then slowly break them over time.
If you’re ready, let's get started.
As you listen to the items we discuss today, you might notice that you have one, two or more of these habits that need breaking. It’s entirely possible to boost your communication skills by ditching these bad habits and knowing what to do instead.
Ready for the first bad habit to quit?
Mumbling is when you speak under your breath. This is problematic because the listeners will have trouble hearing what you said. To prevent mumbling, speak a touch more slowly and loudly. Be sure that you’re engaging the diaphragm to power the breath. This will allow you to speak louder in an effortless way. Think about enunciating each and every word. If you still catch yourself mumbling, try to exaggerate with your mouth shape as you say each word. In American English we use our mouths a lot, they expand and widen as we pronounce words and vowels. This helps with articulation and is an antidote to mumbling.
The next bad habit to break is using fillers. Do you use “um” “ah” “eh” “uh” while speaking? Using a filler word here and there is not a big deal, but it is problematic in high quantities. Meaning, if ever other utterance is a filler word then it’s time to scale it back. The remedy to fillers is silence. Adding an extra pause to just think about what you’re going to say next or process the information being shared with you is all you need! The next time you get tempted to say “um” swap it out with a pause. The silence is just what you need in that instance!
#3 Trailing Voice.
It wasn’t until I spent part of my career as a News Anchor for an international news channel that I noticed that my voice would trail off here and there. Luckily I noticed that habit early in my anchoring days that I was able to ditch this habit quickly. It can be problematic when your voice trails off at the end of your sentence because you’ll be leaving the listeners hanging without meaning to! They will not hear everything you meant for them to hear because to them, you haven’t finished your sentence. So to remedy this, pay extra attention to increasing your volume and articulating the words as you wrap up your sentence or finish your thoughts.
#4 Overuse of Certain Words.
Overusing specific words or phrases and quickly become noticeable to the listener. If you use “you know” or “like” or “right” several times in your sentence and maybe even within the same breath then it can become distracting. Be mindful of words or phrases that you tend to overuse and try to cut back. Instead of “you know” put a pause in there. It’s okay to have a few seconds of silence here and there. A few short pauses is better than overused words.
Uptalk is when an utterance ends with a rising intonation and increased inflection rather than a lowering intonation and decreased inflection. The trouble with this is that uptalk might come across as less professional, assertive or credible. So avoid uptalk to the best of your ability. If you find yourself raising your voice at the end of the sentence but you’re not asking a question, then you might want to work on lowering your voice at the end of each sentence. Over time it will help decrease the amount of uptalk that is happening.
#6 Avoiding Eye Contact.
In the American English languaculture, eye contact is important. If you don’t look someone in the eyes as you speak with them, it might look as though you’re concealing something from them or not being truthful. Making eye contact is a sign of confidence as well as trustworthiness. So, if you’re speaking to American English speakers eye contact will be high on the list. Keep in mind that making eye contact does not been staring into their eyes for the entire duration of the talk or conversation. You can look left, right, up and down, but also make sure you are looking at the person as well. And it’s especially important to look at the person as they speak to you. If you’re the one talking at the moment, you can take a break from eye contact here and there to avert your gaze. This happens naturally, because when we’re making eye contact we are not staring at the person. Be careful not to stare at the person, because that can quickly make them feel uncomfortable. It’s about striking the right balance. If you’re struggling with looking people in the eye as you speak to them here’s what you do. First of all, be sure that you’re not shifting from eye to eye because that’ll make you appear nervous and awkward. Instead aim to look in between their eyebrows or at their nose. This will help you make eye contact, believe it or not.
#7 Standing Too Close.
Another big no-no in communication specific to the American English languaculture context has to do with personal space. As Americans we like our personal space. If someone stands too close to us, it can quickly feel as though they’re invading our space. And that feels uncomfortable and intrusive. The general rule is to stand at about an arm’s length from the person. This is true of professional acquaintances, colleagues, and people you might not know that well. The closer people stand to each other, the closer they are in terms of their friendship or relationship. For example, good friends will stand closer to each other. That’s because they know each other well, have already established rapport, and feel comfortable in each other’s presence. So for good friends, family, and people close to you, you can stand close to each other because of the pre-existing familiarity to each other. But in professional relationships, with new acquaintances, and in business contexts, the personal space rule applies. So be mindful of not standing too close or invading personal space. Stand no closer than the length of your arm if you were to measure the distance between you and the other person.
#8 Raising Your Voice / Losing Your Temper.
This one is probably universally a bad communication habit across cultures. If you are someone who naturally has a louder voice, volume in addition to tone of voice are something to pay extra attention to. The antidote to raising your voice and losing your temper is to be as calm as you can. If someone says something to trigger or upset you, it’s better to remove yourself from the situation until you’ve had time to collect your thoughts. Excuse yourself and take a time out to calm yourself down. Doing breathing exercises can really help lower the tension in the situation and prevent you from unleashing the tempest on the listeners. This is easier said than done in a heated situation, so it’s important to practice ahead of time. Work on de escalating and on centering yourself so that you don't raise your voice or lose your temper.
#9 Using Profanities.
It goes without saying that using profane language is a major faux-pas. You might be nodding your head right now in agreement saying “of course” to yourself right now but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use profanity because they saw a character from a movie talk this way. While there’s a great use of profanity in film and on TV, that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to talk like that in real life. It’s highly rude and quite inappropriate especially if you are in a professional setting or don’t know the person well. If you have a Mouth-of-a-sailor then you’ll want to be on high alert with your word choice. If you notice that you can’t help yourself then swap out the profanity with an innocuous word like “shoot” or “shucks” or “darn” or come up with your own word if you feel so inclined!
#10 Not Defining Anything.
The last communication habit to break is not defining anything. This means that if you are using terms, acronyms, abbreviations, unfamiliar words, or technical jargon that the listener does not understand you need to define it for them. Just because you might be having a conversation with a Native English speaker does not mean that they know the meaning of every abbreviation or jargon you throw at them. It would be a mistake to assume that. You’re better off defining the terminology from the get-go. If they already know the meaning ascribed to those terms, they’ll say so. But if you don’t define anything and just expect the listeners to glean meaning from context, that’s the equivalent to leaving the listeners in the dust as you ride off.
Alright so those are 10 communication habits to avoid when speaking in English. If you find that you have more than one or two bad habits to break, don’t feel overwhelmed. Just start with one at a time. Figure out which ones take top priority for you based on your line or work and or personal situation.
To recap, the 10 Bad Communication Habits to Avoid when Speaking English:
- Mumbling (speaking under your breath)
- Trailing off voice (voice trails off at the end of the sentence)
- Overuse of Certain words or phrases (i.e., Like, You Know)
- Not Making Eye Contact
- Standing too close (invading personal space)
- Raising your voice / losing your temper
- Using Profane Language
- Not defining terms, acronyms, abbreviations
So keep this list handy and work on implementing the antidote slowly but surely. Pretty soon you’ll notice that one by one you’ve broken these bad communication habits. And when you do your communication skills will dramatically improve.
Alright Advanced English learners, thanks for joining me in this lesson. Which of these bad habits are you going to break first? Do you think you’ll start implementing the antidote as quickly as in your next conversation? Did anything here surprise you? Feel free to share that experience with us in the comments below.
See you in the next one where we’ll continue advancing your English together! Until then, keep up the awesome work.