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Posted: April 24, 2014

Chef Laura: Down with upspeak!

Three verbal habits that are sabotaging your success

Laura Cook Newman

Ladies, this one is for you.  Like, okay?

I grew up in the 80’s when our nations’ youth described something a shade above mediocre as “Totally awesome!”  On behalf of my fellow Gen X’ers, I apologize for that and introducing America to the word “like”.  Not “I like living in Colorado”, but as in… as in.

Thankfully, “Tubular” and “Grody to the max!” didn’t fully catch on, but “awesome” and “like” are still prevalent in 2014.  I recently heard some preschoolers start a sentence with “like”, so you know that verbal tic will be around for a few more generations.  Gag me with a spoon!

The latest in curious vocal trends is the high rising terminal (aka upspeak or uptalk) in one’s voice that makes my blood pressure also rise.  This is when someone audibly ends every sentence with an upward inflection, even though they are stating a fact, not asking a question.  For example:

Traditional version - The other day I was compiling the reports and noticed a problem with the data.

Upspeak version (kindly channel your inner Moon Unit Zappa as you read the following sentence aloud) - So the other day?  I was, like, compiling the reports?  And I noticed a like, problem? With the data?

Unfortunately, the biggest offenders are women.  When I hear the “upspeak version”, I’m surprised that their information about the reports doesn’t end with an invitation to the Galleria to shop for neon banana clips.

Ladies, I am here to tell you that you sound like a 15-year-old girl from the San Fernando Valley circa 1984, fer shure.

Why are grown women doing this? (that question mark was intentional).  It most likely stems from the classic Mars vs. Venus battle.  Women tend to be more interested in forming relationships so their vocal patterns are softer, less concrete, and open to opinion.  Men are driven by conquests, so their vocal patterns tend to be authoritative, powerful, and decisive.

In professional kitchens, if someone was fluent in upspeak, they would also be well-versed in unemployment. When chefs communicate to each other and their servers, regardless of their gender, they are definitive.  The Expeditor, often the Executive Chef, is the person at the helm who choreographs the whole show.   S/he doesn’t ask their team to prepare menu items, they command them.  The acceptable response is “Yes, Chef!” not “Umm, like, okay?”  

Upspeak aside, there are two more verbal crutches women lean on to undermine their authority. 

1. Warm & Fuzzies - Using “I think” or “I feel” before stating a course of action shows a complete lack of confidence in the words that follow.  This is business, not a yoga class!

“I think it would be best if we reviewed the data again.  I feel that’s the right thing to do.”

versus

“I will review the data again.  It’s the right thing to do.”

2. Three Dot Fan Club – I’m talking about trailing off at the end of a sentence.  Why do people (ahem, women) do this?  Again, it’s that Venus-like desire to appear friendly, non-confrontatial, and gain group consensus.  Ending sentences with ellipses also provides a safety net that those new ideas weren’t entirely theirs.  Venusians, own your words; own your thoughts.   

On behalf of business women who would like to close the salary gap between the genders, please stop apologizing for your brilliant ideas.

If women want to be taken seriously at work, they must drop the upspeak, the warm and fuzzies, and trailing off.  Ceasing these detrimental verbal habits is an important step to creating equity in the workplace.  And if we can accomplish that, businesswomen would be totally boss.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Like... Meat fork to the forehead...Chef! By Ta Tee on 2014 04 26
If women want to be be taken seriously, they should also maintain eye contact during a conversation. Never lose the staring war. By another take on 2014 04 24
Yo, L. good words... However, I think I need to interject a possible disagreement (just a little) about your men from mars portion of the article, well just because I think you might be a little off mark (but that's OK, you do a great job). Men don't want to conquer, just to have people obey them. By mmmm.... on 2014 04 24
PF chose my favorite line too! Great article that touches on a subtle impact in the workplace. I always keep in mind an old radio commercial for a vocabulary program that said, "people judge you by the words you use." As your article says, HOW you speak also will determine your status. Admittedly, I probably use "dude" too much, but I try to keep that out of the office. By Ted on 2014 04 24
Oh, well, Peter Piper picked a pepper, I guess I did! (Thanks for the memories and the insight.) By Randy on 2014 04 24
Great article. One of your best. I particularly "like:" "In professional kitchens, if someone was fluent in upspeak, they would also be well-versed in unemployment." "You know" is another unnecessary popular verbal tic - also seeking affirmation, I presume. By PF on 2014 04 24
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