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.