I Kind Of Hope You Sort Of Read This

“I sort of voted against legislation that would tighten government spending.”
“We kind of went to dinner at 6 then to a movie.”
“We developed this product kind of with our customers in mind.”

“Increasing sales will sort of need to be a goal for 2018.”

I kid you not. Actual statements I’ve heard within the last week.

If you “sort of” voted against legislation, yep, guess what pal, you did in fact vote against it. If you “kind of” went to dinner at 6, unless you left half way through or in reality had only drinks, odds are you actually went to dinner. Your customers will be thrilled with your fervent commitment to them when you “kind of” had them in mind. And if increasing sales will “sort of” need to be a goal, when will you decide if it really will need to be? When your lights are shut off and the collectors come a ‘callin’?

Much the way “just” has crept into our conversation and joined the ranks of other overused fillers such as the trite trio of “like,” “um” and “you know,” we have two new entries muscling their way in to our repartee at a rapid rate.

kind of
While they’ve been around for some time, over the past few months I’ve been hearing these interchangeable “kind of” “sort of” fillers uttered ad nauseam by doctors, news anchors, celebrities, politicians, students and friends, And yes, gasp, even by me!

What’s notable about this latest “kind of” “sort of” trend is that while the terms seemingly are thrown in as throwaways, at their most egregious they’re used not as gentle modifiers (“The cake was kind of sweet”) but as adverbs that inevitably undermine the full meaning of the verb. I mean, do you really want your surgeon to say she “can kind of go in there and sort of remove your appendix?”

Professionally Speaking

Language matters, and it’s definitely of consequence in professional settings such as networking settings and job interviews.

If you’re a recent college grad meeting your mom’s friend who heads up a marketing firm you’ve long admired, will “I kind of majored in marketing,” impress her? During a job interview will “I sort of led the team that saved our division $10,000″ land you the job? Might it prompt the on-the-ball interviewer to ask what you mean by “sort of” or to ponder the veracity of your leadership?

In both cases, the “kind of sort of” fillers might go completely unnoticed. Even if they are noticed, they might not derail your success, but do they help?


We can reduce overuse of softeners and other filler content by focusing on knowing what points we want to communicate; preparing ahead of time so we know exactly how to express these points; and in the case of job interviews and networking situations, practicing over and over until our responses are precise, compelling, natural-sounding and filler free.

Kind Of Why It Sort Of Happens

As I said, much to my disappointment I’m guilty of occasionally tossing in these terms, too, and in the split second before I hear them spill out of my mouth I think, “Uh oh, here comes one of those stupid phrases.” Fortunately, because I find them annoying and I teach communications (!!) I’m getting much better at floating solid thoughts without them. Sort of. 🙂

I know why I and probably others do this. We hear “kind of” and “sort of” a lot, so they’re readily available. And, much like using words such as “just” and “I think,” they soften what comes next. Saying “You just have to study really hard,” sounds a lot nicer, easier and less demanding than “You have to study really hard.”

Perhaps that’s what the surgeon who says she “can sort of remove your appendix” is doing: trying, albeit awkwardly, to make the entire operation sound less invasive and terrifying. Oodles of articles have been written about how disempowering these softeners are and how they should be eliminated immediately in favor of strong, non-speculative statements. But is that always the case?

I Think So, Sometimes?

I’ve been in meetings where I’ve heard people confidently make solid declarations:

Tom says, “The policy was written in 2002.”
Susan says, “We have $120,000 set aside for that road project.”
Andy says, “Bob said we have until Tuesday to complete that study.”

I’ve also often heard such self-assured statements be flat out wrong.

Actually, Tom, the policy was written in 2006; uh hello, Susan, $95,000 is set aside for that road project and yo Andy, your deadline is Monday. If Tom had said, “I think the policy was written in 2002,” might he have sounded less pompous in light of his error? Might he have felt less embarrassed when his boss corrected him in front of everyone? Or should Tom, Susan and Andy stick to their declarative sentences and hedge their bets they are correct?

Perhaps the occasional, well-placed softener can make us seem mindful and humble; can help us make our message a bit more palatable; and can serve us well if we know people think we are too strident or arrogant or less than precise with our facts. But generally, softeners and other fillers should be used sparingly so our messages aren’t obscured or weakened by wanton words.

If you haven’t been noticing these two “kind of” “sort of” gems, if you’ve read this far I bet you’ll start hearing them frequently.

Um, I just, you know, sort of hope you don’t start kind of saying them like all the time … I think … your thoughts?

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