How often do you say “yeah” instead of “yes”? What about “wanna” or “gonna” instead of “want to” or “going to”? Does slang sneak into your speech in formal situations? Taking verbal shortcuts is common in day-to-day conversation and perfectly acceptable when chatting with friends or acquaintances. But letting this type of speech creep into your professional life can be detrimental to your professional image. Using verbal shorthand and slang can give the impression that you are unprofessional, lazy, or even unintelligent.
How many of the following speech sins are you guilty of?
- Contracting words: Combining two words that shouldn’t be combined is one of the most common verbal shortcuts. For example: “wanna” (want to), “gonna” (going to), “hafta” (have to), “shoulda” (should have), “coulda” (could have), “woulda” (would have). Take care to articulate all of the sounds in each word, and your speech will sound much more crisp and professional.
- Slang: Not only is slang unprofessional; if a term is particular to you or your generation, your colleagues and clients might not even understand what you’re trying to say! Take some time to take stock of your vocabulary and see which slang words and phrases you use most often. It may be helpful to enlist the help of a friend or colleague, as you may not even notice some of the slang you use!
- Casual forms: Substituting overly casual forms can make it seem as though you don’t take yourself or your message seriously. Avoid these common casual slip-ups: saying yup, yeah, uh-huh, or mm-hmm instead of “yes”; saying nope or uh-uh for “no”; saying “’kay” instead of “okay”.
- Acronyms: Acronyms aren’t inherently bad. They can make speech cleaner and more efficient when replacing long and unwieldy phrases, especially if they need to be used multiple times in an interaction. However, if the person you’re speaking with isn’t familiar with the acronyms you’re using, they can be detrimental to your speech. When speaking, don’t ask if your listener knows what the acronym means, just say the full phrase the first time you use it, (e.g., “This number includes VAT, value added tax.”)
- Written shorthand: Shortcuts in writing can also significantly hurt your professional image. With the increasing use of text and e-mail for casual interaction, initialisms like “LOL” or word substitutions like “2” for “to” or “b” for “be” are becoming increasingly common. While this may save time during casual texting and e-mail, these forms of writing have no place in formal business communication.