speaking style

The way you talk at work, like, matters - you know?

September 22, 2011: 12:55 PM ET

"Valley Girl" speech patterns and other verbal tics can be hazardous to your career. Here's how to cultivate a more professional style.

By Anne Fisher, contributorclueless_movie_still

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I work on a team with a bright, talented young woman who has a lot of potential. The problem is that our director and other colleagues are frustrated with her communication style, which is what you might call "Valley Girl." We really want her to do well and get ahead, and we believe the way she speaks is holding her back. Can you offer any tips on how to overcome this? She is generally open to constructive suggestions and I think she would follow your advice. — Trying to Help

Dear TH: "'Valleyspeak' is the verbal equivalent of coming to work looking like you just rolled out of bed," says executive speech coach Christine K. Jahnke. "It's sloppy and, worse, it distracts people's attention from your ideas and your performance. It can also wreck your chances of ever being selected for a job where you would be 'out front' dealing with clients."

Jahnke is president of Washington, D.C.-based coaching firm Positive Communications and has advised Michelle Obama and six state governors as well as executives at companies as diverse as the National Geographic Channel and NASCAR. She also wrote a new book, The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking and Sounding Your Best.

One drawback to talking like a Valley Girl is that it often entails ending sentences with an upward inflection, as if they were questions, which "sounds as if you're seeking approval rather than making a statement," Jahnke says. "It makes you seem to lack confidence in what you're saying." More

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