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"I Think" is a Verbal Crutch

Two little words that can tend to dilute your expertise.
Written Jul 02, 2009, read 1696 times since then.


Do you really mean it when you say “I think”? Ever kept track of all the times you say it? How many times do you begin a sentence with it? Or 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”?

It almost never adds anything constructive to what you’re saying.  Indeed, can’t we assume that when we say or write something, it’s a result of thinking at some level?

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 words that little by little chip away at your expertise and self-assuredness.

Few people are immune. Even 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 think”s 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. He was asked about the economy, his company, the future, the strategies and tactics to get us back on track…lots of questions that might otherwise force someone else to qualify each sentence or statement with “I think.”

Because Schmidt is so good at avoiding verbal pauses, 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.

Learn more about the author, Eric Seidel.

Comment on this article

  • CIEHP Certified Integrative Energy Healing Practitioner 
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada 
Thomas Tassé
    Posted by Thomas Tassé, Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | Jul 07, 2009

    Eric! You've brought up an important point. I agree with you. However my belief is that "I think" can still be used by bringing a more focused awareness to these two words with what needs to be communicated. Then throw in a few I believes and I know for variety. I believe what you're also saying and more importantly is lets be more conscious and aware of how we want to express our views and visions. I know that by bringing a more thougthful approach to what we want to say helps us to be more fully awake. Communication from ones heart and head in balance is meaningful, and more likely to be remembered. Thank you for this opportunity to express my thoughts on this matter. Thomas

  • Personal & Professional Development 
Seattle, Washington 
Mark Johnson
    Posted by Mark Johnson, Seattle, Washington | Jul 07, 2009

    Interesting article and comment. I tend to use more "I believe" than "I think". I believe it makes more of a statement and establishes confidence, not only in you but in the listener as well. However, I use them both. I think it's because my mind sometimes questions what my mouth is saying. When I use "I think" I process it differently and keep it open for future consideration. When I say "I believe" I typically have already processed it enough and made it a belief. While beliefs are not set in stone they are more entrenched than thoughts. To me thoughts are random. A third one I use is "I feel". I believe I use that one when the statement comes from the heart. I like Thomas' approach of heart and head balance. I think I'll give that a shot. Thanks guys.

    P.S. When I started to comment I had no idea where I would go with it. As I was writing it I realized how I bounced back and forth between "I think" and "I believe". Interesting.

  • Author/Coach/Speaker 
Tacoma, Washington 
Beth Buelow
    Posted by Beth Buelow, Tacoma, Washington | Jul 11, 2009

    Eric, you raise a very important point about the extraneous words we often use that serve no purpose.

    Words such as "I think" are neutral at best and disempowering at worst. Depending on the context, they potentially weaken one's position and may be interpreted as "This is what I think, it may not be right, it's only my opinion." As Mark points out "I believe" or "I know" is stronger. For persuasive conversation, "I believe" or "I feel" can allow the listener to hear what you're saying and feel there's an opening for debate.

    If you're talking about yourself, your business or closing a deal, it's most powerful to drop the buffer words altogether!