We all have our own set of verbal tics. We'll pause at certain moments, fill in a sentence with extra words, or qualify a statement to make it sound more honest. According to The Wall Street Journal, we'll often use "tee-ups" before a conversation starts that attempt to evade the consequences of the oncoming comment.
Photo by Richard Taylor.
When we're about to be a jerk or a trifle dishonest, we'll use terms like "I want to say", "I'm just saying", "To be perfectly honest", "Don't take this the wrong way" or "I hear what you're saying". From the speaker's perspective, these terms are used to make it easier to say something difficult or to get a few extra seconds to collect thoughts together.
These "tee-ups" are also a good way to lie, because it softens the blow by distancing you on an emotional level. This might have unintentional consequences for your relationships though because listeners tend to interpret those types of statements in a negative light. The Wall Street Journal has a few suggestions for speakers to make those "tee-ups" less damaging:
So, if tee-ups are damaging our relationships, yet we often don't even know we're using them, what can we do? Start by trying to be more aware of what you are saying. Tee-ups should serve as yellow lights. If you are about to utter one, slow down. Proceed with caution. Think about what you are about to say.
"If you are feeling a need to use them a lot, then perhaps you should consider the possibility that you are saying too many unpleasant things to or about other people," says Ellen Jovin, co-founder of Syntaxis, a communication-skills training firm in New York. She considers some tee-up phrases to be worse than others. "Don't take this the wrong way…" is "ungracious," she says. "It is a doomed attempt to evade the consequences of a comment."
Her advice is either to abort your speaking mission and think about whether what you wanted to say is something you should say, or to say what you want to say without using the phrase. "Eliminating it will automatically force you to find other more productive ways to be diplomatic," Ms. Jovin says.
"To be perfectly honest…" is another phrase to strike from your speech, she says. It often prefaces negative comments, and can seem condescending. It signals a larger issue: If you are taking the trouble to announce your honesty now, maybe you aren't always truthful.
Whether you mean it or not, terms like "To be honest" make a listener shut down. The best way to circumvent that is for the speaker to stop using them whenever possible.
Why Verbal Tee-Ups Like 'To Be Honest' Often Signal Insincerity [The Wall Street Journal]