The phrase “kind of” or “sort of” has crept into the common lexicon. I know I say it, and I hear it frequently in conversation, presentations, even from radio and TV announcers.
What does it mean? Literally, it’s a modifier. “It’s kind of green” tells you that the color is green, but not completely. But the way “kind of” and “sort of” are used more frequently is to downplay something the speaker is saying. On a call today, I heard people use the following phrases:
It’s been kind of exciting to see
I’m part of sort of a tech startup
We sort of integrated it
if I can provide sort of any guidance
I sort of sense what the community may be needing
Why not “It’s been exciting to see”? Or “If I can provide any guidance”? My guess is that those statements feel too bold, too assertive, too earnest. The “sort of” gives us an out, a little disclaimer that, while we mean the thing we’re saying, we don’t mean it too much.
Why does this matter? Well, all vocal habits and tics matter when we’re unaware of them. We want to be able to choose our language and have it accurately reflect us. I am sure that most of the people I hear using “sort of” and “kind of” did not consciously choose to include them, they crept in.
So when it really matters, what do we find ourselves saying?
“I’m kind of the team leader” is quite different from “It’s kind of green.” Why would someone say (and I have heard this), “I’m kind of the team leader”?
“I am the team leader” may feel too bold. It may feel like bragging. It may focus more attention than you want on you. It may feel uncomfortable to claim leadership.
But if it is true, and you are the team leader, you need to be able to state that without the “kind of.” If you tell people that you’re kind of a leader, what does that tell them about following you?