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by Derek Loosvelt | January 20, 2017


girls talking

My bet is anyone born during the 1970s likely does it at least 10 times a day. Anyone born during the 1980s likely does it at least 20 times a day. And anyone born after 1990 probably has no clue that they do it close to 100 times a day. What I'm referring to is using the word "like," and using it incorrectly at that. And, like, it is not such a good thing. In fact, it is likely, like, hurting you in, like, interviews, meetings, and, like, pretty much any other work-related setting where you have to speak. Here's why: When you use the word "like" as a filler word or improperly, you typically come across as unengaged in what you're speaking about, unintelligent, nervous, indecisive, and as someone who's lacking a mastery of the English language.

Here I would like to say that I, too, am guilty of misusing the word "like," and so have been working on not using it as often as I do. It isn't easy. But I know that it's important. And, luckily, there are some tricks that can be used to minimize my and your "likes."

First, it's important to admit that you have a problem. If you're unsure if you use the work "like" incorrectly and constantly, then ask a friend, coworker, or family member. Tell them to be honest with you. Once you've identified or been told that you overuse it, then you can move on to the next step.

Second, identify the correct use of the word "like" and how you incorrectly use it. For the most part, "like" is used correctly in two common ways: as a verb as in "I like pizza" or as a preposition as in "The car horn sounded like a cow mooing." (There are a handful of other, less common proper uses of the word "like" that you can read about here).

As for the most common ways we misuse "like," we often replace the word "said" with "like" as in "When she told me she wasn't going to the meeting, I was like, 'Yes, you are.'" We also commonly use "like" during pauses in our speech, to fill the empty space when we're either thinking of what to say next or speaking too fast. Other words we sometimes use to fill space include "um," "basically," "actually," and "you know."

Third, once you have a grasp on the proper usage of the word "like" and how you commonly misuse it, you can begin to strategize about ways to lessen its use. One tactic is to try to speak much more slowly than you do now. Which I've found to be extremely effective. When you slow your speech, you speak more carefully, thoughtfully, and allow pauses to take place in your sentences rather than filling those pauses with filler words to maintain the quick pace of your speech.

Another tactic is to get some outside help. Maybe you have a friend with a similar "like" problem. If so, both of you could agree to call each other out when the word is used improperly. It could even be a game of sorts. You keep count of each other's misuse of the word and keep a daily tally.

Yet another tactic is to take a few extra minutes to prepare before you head into an interview or meeting or some other stressful situation in which you know you're susceptible to misusing "like." Take the time to give yourself a silent pep talk of sorts. Gather yourself and your thoughts and tell yourself that you're going to mindful not to use the word "like" improperly. That said, it's also important to go easy on yourself. Don't punish yourself for each misuse. The goal is to lessen your use of the word "like" at the outset. You will still likely misuse it for a while; that's almost guaranteed. But with patience and practice, the "likes" can and will eventually disappear.

There are certainly other tactics to use. And to that end, I found the following TED Talk on the misuse of "like" and other filler words to be very helpful and informative.

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