the middles p. kim bui 1
the middles p. kim bui 1

Stop Relying On Crutch Phrases When You’re Trying To Express Yourself

I have a lot of them.

“You know what I mean?”

“So, really…”

“Does that make sense?”

Crutch phrases. Those words we turn to when we’re looking to fill the silence or when we’re trying not to trip over ourselves.

“Basically…” used to be one of my crutch phrases until someone pointed out that using it devalued my work and could be seen as condescending (sometimes things are complex and that is OK).

For women, this is tricky territory. We’re not supposed to say “just.” We apologize too much. If those are your crutch phrases, OK, yeah, please stop using them.

But if you’re not using phrases because of the idea that we should all speak more like men, that’s less necessary.

Use the language you want, but be conscious of words you fall back on. They break a poker face and often are tells to what you’re really thinking. And while that may be sometimes useful, it might also be detrimental.

Be more comfortable in silence.

It’s a tip I’ve always given reporters. Sit in silence for a minute when you’re puzzling something out or processing. You can use catching up on notes as an excuse, but the effect of stopping, looking in someone’s eyes, and choosing your words, is powerful.

If you ask a question, wait for the answer. Sometimes people will ramble to fill the space, which is fine. Wait. Be patient. Getting to the real answer may take a minute, but if you don’t wait, you might never get the answer.

Don’t know? It’s OK.

Sometimes I use my crutch phrases as ways to give myself a little room to wiggle and think as I’m talking. I’m trying to be better about stopping, even mid-sentence, to think quickly, and then return to my thought, or cut myself off from rambling and say the truth: I don’t know.

I try to say “I don’t know, but…” so that I don’t lose my own authority. I don’t know, but I can find out. I don’t know, but I think we should try anyway. I don’t know, but I support you in what you want to do.

For big meetings, prep your talking points.

If you’re the type to lean on crutch phrases when you’re nervous and presenting or in large group settings, then try this: Write down the takeaways you need people to walk away with. Writing out the whole speech makes me more nervous so I write a bullet-pointed list to make sure I stay on target.

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About the author

P. Kim Bui

P. Kim Bui is the editor-at-large for NowThis News, focusing on original, social reporting and breaking news. Prior to NowThis, she was deputy managing editor for, a digital media startup specializing in social journalism. Her career has focused on leading breaking news initiatives and new storytelling forms for local, national and global audiences.

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