Qualifiers Can Disqualify You As Effective Communicator

hipster guy yelling into a megaphoneA couple of my favorite talk-show hosts who provide commentary on news and politics of the day have a habit that detracts from their professional persona and hurts their credibility: They overuse the qualifiers sort of and kind of.

It bothers me to see smart people I like and respect broadcasting this shortcoming in their job communication skills via the megaphone of television.

A qualifier is a word or phrase that modifies another word, expressing a degree or level:

I’m sort of devastated that he lost the election.
She was kind of passionate about voting rights.
They sort of proved that getting out the vote does matter.
He kind of collapsed when he heard the news.

Consider the meanings of the words being modified:
     devastated: experiencing severe and overwhelming shock or grief
     passionate: having strong feelings or a strong belief
     proved: demonstrated to be truthful by evidence or argument
     collapsed: to fall down or in; to give way

These definitions don’t lend themselves to softening by adding sort of or kind of. The example that pops into my mind when I hear such statements is: Can someone be sort of or kind of pregnant? No; either you are or you aren’t.

Although the two commentators are among the younger ones in their field, I’m not sure their qualifier habit is related to age. Even older, more-experienced hosts and their guests can be guilty of qualifier abuse. It’s almost a verbal tic.

There are times when a qualifier can be helpful — and appropriate. For example, if you were a supervisor disappointed in a report turned in by someone in your office, you might want to let the person know without crushing her ego:

“Kim, you presented a lot of solid facts in your report, but I was sort of disappointed that you left out the data on our recent sales campaign.” It lets Kim know that her efforts were good overall, but that she fell short in one area.

I wish my two favorite television hosts would watch themselves on tape. I think they would immediately become aware that overuse and inappropriate use of qualifiers reflects negatively on their communication skills and detracts from their professionalism.

I try to learn from these examples, keeping an ear out for my own sort of’s and kind of’s. We all can take a lesson from communication that falls short.



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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)