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Valspeak and Professional Communication

Perhaps I am just sensitive to certain speech patterns, but the repetitive use of the word “like” usually pricks up my ears.  The offenders are usually groups of young adults engaged in casual conversation.  However, that is not always the case.

I was attending a conference a few weeks ago.  In the middle of a discussion, a young finance professional spoke up.  Her response was peppered with the word “like,” and I am certain as the day is long that she was completely unaware of her verbal transgressions.

The movie Valley Girl forever changed the way young Americans communicate.  Since its release in 1983, the speech pattern that emerged, Valspeak, has infiltrated American English. The word “like” is now a common colloquialism. Perhaps you might recognize Valspeak from this Valley Girl movie quote“Like, it’s not cool at all! Like, it’s all this stuff that tastes like nothing, and it’s supposed to be so good for you. Why couldn’t they, like, open a Pizza Hut or something?”

One of the top skills sought by employers is the ability to communicate.  The use of Valspeak is very likely to hinder interviewees’ ability to effectively demonstrate their communication skills during an interview.  Valspeak tends to invite the labels of immaturity and inexperience.  Furthermore, graduates should realize that speech patterns are just as important as education, skills, and professional dress. Communication style is part of our personal brand.  We should endeavor to improve it so that potential employers and colleagues will view us as professionals.  Would you want your doctor to say, “Like you really should cut down on the salt, you know, because that’s really like bad for your blood pressure”?

A study was prepared on the use of “hesitations” and “discourse markers” in speech.  This February 2008 Penn State-Berks study found that use of the term “like” was detrimental during the job interview.  The study abstract shows that “Adult professionals and students were least likely to want to hire, perceived the applicant as less professional, and were less likely to recommend the interviewee for hiring if the interviewee overused the word ‘like’ compared to ‘uh’ or control.”

Clearly, “like” is a word that needs to be booted from professional dialogue.  Below are a few suggestions that may help you give Valspeak the boot.

  1. Determine that you will remove Valspeak from your vocabulary in the work place.  You must want to accomplish a goal before you can make a move toward reaching it.
  2. Cultivate awareness of your habit and know your triggers.  When and where do you tend to fall into the habit? What company are you keeping at the time?
  3. Form a support group of friends with the common goal of improving dialogue.  Practice interacting with one another without using the word “like.”
  4. Bring your family on board.  Explain the issue to them and ask them to police your speech.
  5. Keep the equivalent of a “cuss jar” and contribute to it each time you fail to meet your new standard.  Plan on giving the proceeds to a cause that you dislike, because that will provide you with an incentive to keep money out of the jar.
  6. If you are job seeking, practice answering interview questions.  It would be helpful if you either video yourself or engage the assistance of someone else in a mock interview session.  If you are a college student, your career center most likely conducts mock interviews.
  7. Finally, join a group like Toastmaster’s where you can work on public speaking.

Good luck!

Author

As Assistant Director of Recruiting within the Wake Forest Schools of Business Corporate Relations team, Lisa’s passion is connecting employers with student talent and creating a positive experience for both. She manages all aspects of recruiting, retention, and systems for the graduate business school.  Her strengths include relationship management, networking, social media engagement, information aggregation, process facilitation and communication. Lisa has been employed at Wake Forest since the fall of 2002.  She has over 20 years of work experience in various roles.  Prior to arriving at Wake Forest, she was an entrepreneur, venturing into web-based international sales and marketing of salvage automotive parts and accessories.  Before that, she was a trust officer in the Employee Benefit Trust area of Wachovia Bank.  Lisa is also a veteran of the United States Air Force. Lisa earned a B.S. in Business Administration from Rollins College and will complete her Masters in Liberal Arts from Wake Forest in 2011.  Visit Lisa’s blog, follow her on Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.

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  2. Workplace Basics: Business Communication and Etiquette 101
  3. Personal Branding Basics: It’s All About Communication

4 Responses to “Valspeak and Professional Communication”

  1. avatar Shad Boots says:

    I always cringe at the use of ‘like’ in that manner. I do believe that it’s the result of a habit that developed in youth, when most aren’t comfortable with speaking and aren’t able to quickly formulate their thoughts into sentences.

    In perception, ‘like’ is that word when a speaker has no idea how to proceed. It’s a go-to savior for many, because it’s a word that is easily said.

    The study is right on the others, though. They aren’t nearly as distasteful.

    I would also suggest recording yourself talking if you do have those problems.

  2. avatar Lisa Simmons says:

    Thanks for your comment Shad. I agree. Our career coaching staff use mock interviews to identify issues that might arise during an interview.

  3. I appreciate your tips for working towards decreasing the amount of ‘likes’ in your vocabulary. It’s easy to say ‘like’ as a ‘filler’ word or in place of more descriptive vocabulary but it truly does reflect poor professionalism. Having a goal to reduce ‘like’ and having an effective system to do so is a great idea!

    As an academic life coach, I work with high school students and help prepare them for college. This is a great skill for them to work on right now, before it hinders their future careers!

  4. avatar Lisa Simmons says:

    Thanks for the comment John.

    I think it is fantastic that you are addressing this with high schoolers. If they can develop an awareness of the habit now, perhaps it will help them as they enter college and begin a career.

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