“Hey, can I give you some quick feedback about that meeting?” my co-worker asked.
We’d just walked out of a particularly discussion-heavy session, and since I’d made a couple great points, I figured she was about to praise them.
“Sure!” I said.
“You had some good contributions…” she began, “but you really need to stop saying ‘like.’ It’s totally undermining your credibility .”
I sighed. My “like” problem was not new to me—and judging by the number of times I heard other people say it, not unique to me, either.
However, her comment made me realize I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I decided I’d try a one-month experiment to completely rid my speech of “like.” Each week, I’d focus on a different use case. Here’s how it went.
Week 1: Action Verbs
I commonly use “like” instead of action verbs, like “said,” or “responded,” and so on. For my first week, I focused on swapping the two.
Compare these statements:
“He was like , ‘That’s feasible, as long as we have a 36-hour window.’”
“He replied , ‘That’s feasible, as long as we have a 36-hour window.’”
The second sounds far more professional and polished—all thanks to a single word. Plus, research shows that the more specific our language is, the more impact it has on our audience.
More Alternatives: said, responded, answered, emailed, wrote back, announced, yelled, whispered, declared, observed, commented, noted, added, suggested
Week 2: Moods and Attitudes
I also habitually use “like” to describe an attitude or emotion.
For example: “And I was like , a little annoyed, because…”
Just reading that makes me cringe, but I say similar things all the time.
So during week two, I eradicated the “like” in mood statements, jumping straight from “I was…” or “I felt…” to my emotion: excited, tired, miffed, and so forth.
More Alternatives: was, seemed, acted as though, reacted
Week 3: Comparisons and Examples
Saying “like” to compare two (or more) things is actually a legitimate use. However, when you’re trying to stop saying “like,” it’s easier to banish it completely.
So, I decided to use more formal phrases, such as, well, “such as” and “for example.”
Take this sentence:
“I found a few errors in this report. Like in this column, you entered…”
“I found a few errors in this report; for example , in this column…”
More Alternatives: that is, as proof, look at, similar to, equivalent to, analogous to, comparable to, reminiscent of, it reminded me of
Week 4: Filler
“Like” is by far the most pervasive (in my vocabulary, at least) as a filler word. When I’m thinking out loud, I’ll punctuate my sentences with “likes.”
But when you listen to highly competent public speakers , you’ll notice they rarely say like. If they’re trying to find the right words, they’ll pause instead.
I followed suit. While this meant it took me longer to deliver my sentences, those thoughts came across as more thoughtful and intelligent.
And when I absolutely needed a filler, I tried to default to “ah.” Something about “ah” sounds a little more professorial than “like.”
If you don’t believe me, say these two snippets out loud:
“Maintaining a strong Twitter presence is important because, like , we…”
“Maintaining a strong Twitter presence is important because, ah , we…”
See? While ideally, you wouldn’t use any fillers, “ah” is still better than “like.”
By the time the month was up, I’d stopped saying “like” around 98% of the time. OK, that’s an estimate, but a lot. I kept waiting for my co-worker to say something—but she didn’t seem to notice.
Then, after one meeting, she followed me out and said, “Hey! Your comments about the contractor portal were really good.”
“Thanks!” I replied.
“And they were even better because you didn’t say ‘like.’”