How to use ‘qualifiers’ to your somewhat...sort-of...advantage.


When used strategically, qualifiers (not to be confused with fillers) can help you get what you want from your audience.

Let’s start by defining what a qualifier is.  According to the Writing Center at UNC Chapel-Hill, qualifiers are, “words or phrases that are added to another word to modify its meaning, either by limiting it (He was somewhat busy) or by enhancing it (The dog was very cute).”  

Oftentimes we use qualifiers unconsciously when presenting or speaking publicly.  “I just want to thank you for coming today.” “I’m sort-of going to walk through the following points before opening it up for discussion.”

When qualifiers are used incorrectly.

Qualifiers can feel like an insidious bad habit, unintentionally undermining your confidence and credibility.  I would argue that this sentence, “Please turn to page 34,” is much more powerful than, “If you could just turn to page 34.”

There are many factors influencing our unconscious use of qualifiers.  Where we grew up.  If adults used them around us when we were young.  The culture we consume.

Unintentional apologizing is also something to watch out for.  When we are nervous or unsure of ourselves, qualifiers may creep in, in an unconscious attempt to offset our own discomfort.  

Common scenarios in which unintentional apologizing rears its head. Talking to those in positions of power (boss or supervisor).  Networking with a client you feel pressure to impress. When advocating for yourself.

Instead of, “I just feel I deserve a raise for kind of going above and beyond all year,” try: “I deserve a raise for going above and beyond all year.”

How to correctly use qualifiers to your advantage.

When used correctly and deliberately, qualifiers are a powerful communication tool.  To harness their power it’s important to first identify your intention or objective. In other words, what you want your audience to do or feel?  If you don’t answer this crucial question before engaging with an audience it may lead to unfocused and ineffective communication.

Let’s say you have to tell someone on your team at work, whom you deeply care about, that she really angered the boss.  Even though you are sharing distressing news your objective is to make her feel supported and safe. Using qualifiers to soften the news could absolutely help you here.  “Anne, so, you sort of upset Jane when you interrupted her in front of the client. It’s just that she wasn’t finished pitching them her idea yet so when you cut her off it kind of made her feel that you don’t respect her.”

Another point where qualifiers can help is when managing up. Let’s say you need to give your quick-tempered boss an instruction.  You may benefit from using strategically placed apologizing qualifiers.  “So sorry to interrupt you, Dan. It’s 4pm. I think maybe the client expected you to call them at 3:30.  If you want, I could just give them a ring if that’s helpful since it seems you’ve maybe got a lot going on this afternoon?”

Your power is your choice.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to qualifiers is deliberateness.  When used unknowingly they may distract your audience from your intended message and leave them feeling underwhelmed by you.  When used consciously and placed conspicuously within your speech you’re leveraging a powerful communication tool that will position you to achieve your objective and make the impression you intended.