By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
For my first line of this blog post, I want to say something. I have to say, honestly, it is going to be important. But I don't want you to take it the wrong way. So, here it is: When communicating, don't tee up your statement, just say it. That's it. So, you might wonder, why the buildup? Why all the prefatory remarks about what I'm going to say? Because those kinds of lead-in statements can sometimes reach epidemic proportions in both common and official speech. Witnesses, for example, will sometimes let these conversational conventions leak accidentally into their testimony. The witness could think they're making their language more appealing, polite, or careful, when they're actually making their language more hesitant, more distant, and -- most importantly -- more likely to be seen as false or insincere.
These common lead in statements are called "tee ups," and they are the focus of a recent Wall Street Journal feature focusing on the work of University of Texas, Austin Professor James W. Pennebaker. The problem with these expressions -- the statements about what our statements are, or will be -- is that they serve as insulation or a barrier. In a witness, this kind of language can reflect a hesitation or a hyper-precision that stems from understandable motives in an unfamiliar legal context. But to the fact finder assessing the credibility of that witness, it sounds like a hedge, a waffle, or an attempt to distance oneself from one's own testimony. It sounds like insincerity. In this post, I'll share a list of some of the most common types of tee ups and also comment a bit on why these tee ups are typically best avoided all together.