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The Elusive Element of Self-Awareness

By reviewing my personal journals going back 10 to 12 years, I’ve reminded myself of things I’ve observed in the mannerisms of people I’ve encountered. Such a review causes me to recollect that there are people out there that have some rather strange needs.

One manifestation of this need is to publicly disclose one’s flaws, mistakes, and errors to everyone and anyone who will listen. I’m not entirely certain why such people do this. Perhaps it meets a perverse need they have to be in “Full Discloser” mode. Perhaps they have a different need, such as the need for people to feel sorry for them, or to admire their candor.

My journal review surfaced some other long-forgotten memories. I’ve seen many a speaker and seminar leader do this: the speaker decides to cut out some content because she spent too much time meandering on other content. The audience would be none the wiser at the shift in content, but the speaker feels she must disclose such details. Or the speaker may have misplaced her notes containing talking points and somehow feels that is something that needs to be aired publicly. Is it to garner sympathy?

Here’s a related thing I’ve seen: imagine a working professional that habitually says something meant to be a humorous, whimsical aside, and immediately follows that with: “I’m just kidding!” – an occurrence that may be repeated dozens of times in a given workday. Habit?

Here’s another observation: I know people who habitually use filler words that are meaningless. Their verbal communication is peppered with words that are unnecessary, such as the word “right?” (something I wrote about recently – see issue #284). I’ve noticed other words that are overused filler words, such as “OK?” Similar to the overuse of “right?” – and the question mark is deliberately included, as if the person is trying to obtain permission from the listener(s) – saying, or asking “OK?” at the end of every third sentence is done out of a need to see if the listener(s) is still with them. And then there’s my least favorite: “uhm” or “uh” which aren’t even words, technically. I think of them as pseudo-words. They are the verbal equivalent of someone feeling their way to their next thought, unsure of where their verbiage is going. I suspect such a person has a sort of “brain fog” taking place, and their cognitive skills are dull. They are mentally groping their way through some mists of darkness, feeling their way towards their next word.

As an example, I once had a series of telephone conversations with an individual I’ve known for many years. I couldn’t help but notice he said “uhm” an inordinate number of times. This was in 2018. So I decided the next time I had occasion to hold a meeting with him via telephone, I would track how many times he uttered the unnecessary pseudo-word. I also kept track of how long we were on the phone. I discovered that he said “Uhm” 113 times in a 23-minute phone call. That averaged out to almost five times per minute, every minute. I was curious if that was typical or an anomaly. So I tracked it again on our very next phone conversation, which took place about 10 days later. On this second phone meeting, I discovered he uttered the pseudo-word 138 times in a 26-minute conversation – which averages out to more than five times per minute, every minute.

What was interesting is that when we spoke a third time later that month, I informed him of my observations. He listened intently to what I had to say, and he did not utter the pseudo-word “uhm” at all in that third conversation. He was able to control it when he set his mind to do so. (As an aside, he did not keep up that resolve; he still says the “word” quite often, suggesting that old habits die hard.)

I wonder if such persons would be surprised if an audio recording of such communication gaffes were played back to them. I suspect some of them would be shocked and dismayed.

That brings me to a suggestion: try recording yourself in meetings or in other conversations. Your mobile device makes it easy to do so. Recording yourself and then going to a private place afterwards and listening to such recordings will very likely be eye-opening. You may feel as though you’ve been punched in the gut when you hear how you come across, but doing so will compel you to make any needed changes in the way you communicate with others.

And that makes the exercise utterly worth it.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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