How Hidden Messages in your Voice Stop your Career.
Sarah already had been told by her new CEO, what message her voice was sending. It was hidden to her but not to her all male team and the new CEO and indeed the sound of her voice had put her career on the line. The new CEO had hired an independent firm to conduct a thorough review of everybody’s performance and as a result, Sarah’s job was in jeopardy, even though she held a powerful position and her knowledge and expertise were indispensable. Why?
The independent review containing her team’s complaints revealed that over 50% of the team had complained about Sarah’s weekly motivational teleconference calls. More specifically it was noted in the report that her voice was harsh and really difficult to listen to. Many of her team felt she was unjustly critical of them. The report concluded that her speaking style was perceived as overbearing and over time it had caused her team to have serious negative feelings toward her.
Until we are told, many of us don’t really perceive how we sound to others. Sarah like many intelligent, highly skilled and talented experts worked 24/7 to always be there for her team. When told of the situation, she immediately looked for a way to solve the problem.
Sarah was willing to do whatever was necessary to correct her sound. My assessment was that her speaking pattern sounded tight and nasal which is very hard to listen to for any length of time. And she also spoke very fast with little variation in her tone: basically she had a nasal, machine gun speaking pattern.
Sarah understood that her whiney tone could push subconscious buttons in many male psyches. Most men have lower pitched voices and a higher pitched, nasal voice can easily sound nagging, and critical, even though that may not be the speaker’s intention. Sarah had a high pitched nasal sound that she learned by imitating her mother who also was nasal. Unconsciously imitating a significant adult is how most children pick up their speaking voice pattern and it is usually set by the time they are 8 or 9 years old.
“Knowledge is power”. The first task for Sarah was to learn how to slow her speaking rate. “We speak to engage another person, and it is hard to do that when speaking fast,” I told her. ”You can never speak as fast as you think, and so why try.” As we worked on the breathing, pacing, and diction exercises, she heard the difference between her new and improved voice pattern and the old one that was negatively impacting her team and her new CEO.
Once she was able to slow down we worked with exercises to get rid of her nasality. I explained that her nasal sound was created by lifting the back of her tongue against the soft palate which effectively closes off the back of the throat and forces the sound to go out the nasal passages.
In three months she consciously changed to a non-nasal voice pattern which took the edge out of her speaking voice. Sarah was now in control and as a result her voice sounded richer, fuller, more resonant and definitely easier on the ears.
The CEO was impressed by her new command on the calls and complimented her on her communication skills. Sarah is still in her job position. And because of her new confident speaking voice she is now on her company’s in-house radio show as the expert in her field.