Each day I interact with Hmmcontractors from at least ten different countries.

Most of these interactions occur via instant message chats. In my experience, typed collaboration is more efficient (and effective) than verbal communication. While chat can help alleviate language barriers, there are still some words that cause confusion.

“Hmm” is certainly one of them.

Contractors seem to use (or misuse) this word in creative ways. For example:

Me: You did a great job on taking the new website live!

Freelancer: Hmm

(5 second delay)

Freelancer: Thank you, Matt. It was a good project.

Me (a little confused): OK, good. Glad it’s completed.

It’s not a big deal, but I thought it’s time to set the record straight. In this post, I’ll discuss how Americans use this word.

(Since many international freelancers are working for US-based companies, this article is meant to serve as a friendly explanation of how best to use it.)

“Hmm” as a Sign of Consideration

I’m often asked questions that require thought. In this case, I might use “Hmm…” to show that I’m thinking about the answer. For example:

Freelancer: Do you know how many pixels the banner graphic should be?

Me: Hmm…

Freelancer: Let me know.

Me: OK, I checked my notes. It looks like we need to make it 300 pixels wide by 150 pixels tall.

Freelancer: OK, cool. Thanks.

“Hmm” as a Sign of Skepticism

I’ve also used this word to show my skepticism for what a freelancer is telling me. For example:

Freelancer: There’s no way to fix the issue on the website.

Me: Hmm…

Freelancer: What Matt?

Me: I just have a hard time believing that is true. Surely there’s a solution. Did you do a search for support documentation? I have to think someone has had this same situation.

Freelancer: Oh, that’s a good idea. Let me do that and get back to you.

“Hmm” as a Sign of Confusion

Usually followed by a question mark (or multiple question marks), you can also use “Hmm” to show your confusion. The number of question marks typically indicates the level of frustration. For example:

Freelancer: I think I accidentally deleted that one file you sent me.

Me: Hmm??

Freelancer: That one file you sent me a couple weeks ago.

Me: Which one???

Freelancer: Oh, never mind Matt. I found it. Sorry.

Me: OK, no problem. Glad you found it.  🙂

Freelancer: Me too!

How Do You Use “Hmm”?

Do you have other ways that you use this word? Post a comment below and share your thoughts!

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Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and Entrepreneur.com.

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