“I Think” is a Verbal Crutch

Google CEO Eric Schmidt
By Eric Seidel, CEO
Do you really mean it when you say “I think”? Ever kept track of all the times you say it? How many times you begin a sentence with it? Even inject that little phrase in the middle of statements?

I know I do it a lot. We seem socialized to do it. It’s a verbal pause, just a split second of time to—well—think as you either answer a question or continue a statement. Just like someone who keeps repeating “you know” during the course of conversation. It rarely means anything. It’s just filler.

Even in our writing, we use those two words as an unnecessary qualifier. We say it so often, it probably goes almost unnoticed. Almost. But, the more I hear it, the more I believe those two words often weaken what you’re saying. When you know, or believe, something, why say “I think”?

Listen to people more closely. Listen to how they respond. Listen to interviews. That’s one communication situation where you’ll hear “I think” ad nauseam. Even reading print stories, quotes often include those two little words that little by little chip away at your expertise and self-assuredness.

CEOs are just as prone to it as the worker bees in cubicles or on a plant floor. I watch, listen to and read lots of interviews. I wish I had a dollar for all the “I thinks” I hear each time. There are exceptions, though, and when I encounter someone who does not lean on this verbal crutch often, if at all, it becomes even more obvious just how much more your statements are strengthened.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, is a case in point. I really enjoy hearing him being interviewed, and only partially because of his first name. Schmidt is quite glib (and I mean this in a very positive sense). I don’t remember hearing him say “I think” much, if at all. Recently, he was on Meet the Press and I listened closely to his answers. There’s an example below for you click on. Let me know what you think. For me, his answers relay an image of confidence and expertise, a guy very much in charge, well informed and quite believable. Someone who knows what he believes and doesn’t have to qualify that fact in any way.

Like I said, I’m just as “guilty” as the next person for falling into the habit in what I say or write with “I think” either leading a sentence or padding one. And I’m working hard to monitor myself so I can edit that phrase out of my vocabulary when it so often has no benefit to what I’m communicating. I’m getting a little better at it.

I think.

One thought on ““I Think” is a Verbal Crutch

  1. Eric – Good updates!

    I’d like to offer up additional verbal pauses that distract me to no end! I look forward to your future columns dedicated to the crippling words below that compliment your seminal work on “you know” and “I think”.

    1. Uh, Um – Lesser educated types use “uh”…academics and elitist of all stripes use the more refined verbal pause “um” – just listen to NPR or any book review on Georgia Public Broadcasting for excellent examples every day – very irritating!!!

    2. Like – Every teenager and now most young adults use the word “like” inappropriately … constantly … they cripple a conversation and these youngsters are crippled communicators as a result.

    3. Again – A relative of mine used “again” all the time, as a bridge to his next thought. He constantly left me two paragraphs back trying to figure out where he had mentioned what he was referring to the first time – when he hadn’t. Very annoying….

    4. I guess what I’m trying to say – young adults use this to attempt to soften their position in order to come across as less sure or strident — on purpose!

    5. Look – Used by talking heads that immediately tells me I’m about to get lectured or that they are about to start lying – it’s normally accompanied by “pointing” with ones fist like it’s your lead hand on a golf club – unnatural and smacks of professional communications training!!

    6. To be honest with you – Implies that you’ve been dishonest with your listener.


Leave a Reply