Friday, August 24, 2012

Can Your Voice Be Holding You Back at Work?

38% of our communication is conveyed through the sound of our voice and on the phone our voice accounts for 84% of our message. That’s why having a voice that conveys confidence and enthusiasm is so important.

People form an opinion about us within 2 seconds of meeting us. Most of those opinions or impressions are formed in a primitive part of our brain; the same part of the brain animals get their “animal instinct” from.  Like animals, we listen for tones in the voice that tell us whether the person we’ve just met is trustworthy, confident, honest, intelligent, enthusiastic, positive and safe to be with.

Because we instinctively evaluate and judge the sound of the communication before we evaluate the actual words being said, women, with higher pitched voices are often at a disadvantage. I believe there are two reasons that higher pitched voices are not taken as seriously. First of all, since all children start off with adorable high pitched voices, a high pitched voice makes us seem young and inexperienced. And second, in the animal kingdom, higher pitched sounds are often used to give off warnings of danger or to express fear, anxiety and disapproval. So a woman who does not work to modulate the pitch of her voice either comes off as childlike and insecure or shrill and anxious – not particularly effective qualities in the workplace.

In addition to the actual pitch of the voice, women also have issues with intonation that can totally sabotage their message. Upspeaking – making every sentence end as though it is a question – has become almost epidemic in people under 30!! When people constantly talk with the upspeaking intonation, it conveys two things to me as a listener 1) they are not sure about anything they are saying which is why they ask it in the form of a question. Or 2) they are so insecure about forming a real opinion they need to ask me for approval to say what they are saying.

What to do if you have vocal issues?  Get in touch with your diaphragm. The muscle that goes across your chest, behind your upper ribcage. Learning diaphragmatic breathing can really help. A strong diaphragm supports your breath and helps create chest resonance. There are exercises that can help strengthen the diaphragm muscles. ( I actually have created a Vocal Workout CD that goes through breathing  exercises and has intonation and articulation drills as well) I’m living proof exercise helps. Full disclosure: as a child, my family used to make fun of my voice for being high. They had a very weird term for it: they called it a “fry” voice and said (very political incorrect I’m sure) that I sounded Chinese. In college, studying acting, I had voice and diction classes every morning where I had to do many of the exercises that I teach on my CD.

Okay, I’ll shut up now. As you may notice, I’m fairly passionate about this topic. 

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