Monthly Archives: May 2012

How We Are Judged by Our Voice in Dating and the Workplace

People spend a lot of time talking and thinking about how members of the opposite sex look, but very little time paying attention to how they sound. To our unconscious minds, however, voice is very important. Our genus Homo has been evolving for a couple million years. Brain evolution happens over many thousands or millions of years, but we’ve lived in civilized society for less than 1 percent of that time. That means that though we may pack our heads full of 21st century knowledge, the organ inside our skull is still a Stone-Age brain. We think of ourselves as a civilized species, but our brains are designed to meet the challenges of an earlier era. Among birds and many other animals voice seems to play a great role in meeting one of those demands — reproduction — and it seems to be similarly important in humans.

For example, women may disagree on whether they prefer dark-skinned men with beards, clean-shaven blonds, or men of any appearance sitting in the driver’s seat of a Lamborghini – but when asked to rate men they can hear but not see, women miraculously tend to agree: men with deeper voices are more attractive. Asked to guess the physical characteristics of the men whose voices they hear in such experiments, the women tend to associate low voices with men who are tall, muscular, and hairy-chested – traits commonly considered sexy. As for men, a group of scientists recently discovered they unconsciously adjust the pitch of their voices higher or lower in accordance with their assessment of where they stand on the dominance hierarchy with respect to possible competitors. In that experiment, which involved a couple hundred men in their twenties, each man was told he’d be competing with another man for a lunch date with an attractive woman in a nearby room. The competitor, it was explained, was a man in a third room.

Each contestant communicated with the woman via a digital video feed, but when he communicated with the other man, he could only hear him, and not see him. In reality, both the competitor and the women were confederates of the researchers, and followed a fixed script. Each man was asked to discuss – with both the woman and his competitor – the reasons he might be respected or admired by other men. Then, after pouring his heart out about his prowess on the basketball court, his potential for winning the Nobel Prize, or his recipe for asparagus quiche, the session was ended, and he was asked to answer some questions assessing himself, his competitor, and the woman. The subjects were then dismissed. There would, alas, be no winners anointed.

The researchers analyzed a tape recording of the male contestants’ voices, and scrutinized each man’s answers to the questionnaire. One issue the questionnaires probed was the contestant’s appraisal of his level of physical dominance as compared to that of his competitor. And they found that when the participants believed they were physically dominant compared to their competitor – that is, more powerful and aggressive – they lowered the pitch of their voices, and when they believed they were less dominant, they raised the pitch, all apparently without realizing what they were doing.

From the point of view of evolution, what’s interesting about all this is that a woman’s attraction to men with low voices is most pronounced when she is in the fertile phase of her ovulatory cycle. What’s more, not only do women’s voice preferences vary with the phases of their reproductive cycle, so do their voices – in their pitch and smoothness – and research indicates that the greater a woman’s risk of conception, the sexier men find her voice. As a result, that both women and men are especially attracted to each other’s voices during a woman’s fertile period. The obvious conclusion is that our voices act as subliminal advertisements for our sexuality. During a woman’s fertile phase, those ads flash brightly on both sides, tempting us to click the “buy” button when we are most likely to obtain not only a mate, but, for no extra (upfront) cost, also a child.

In the workplace, too, the quality of your voice can be a deciding factor in your degree of success. The pitch, timbre, volume, speed, and cadence of your voice, the speed with which you speak, and even the way you modulate pitch and loudness, are all hugely influential factors in how convincing you are, and how people judge your state of mind, and character.

Scientists have developed fascinating computer tools that allow them to determine the influence of voice alone, devoid of content. In one method they electronically scramble just enough syllables that the words cannot be deciphered. In another, they excise just the highest frequencies, which wreaks havoc with our ability to accurately identify consonants. Either way, the meaning is unintelligible while the feel of speech remains. Studies show that when people listen to such “content-free” speech, they still perceive the same impressions of the speaker and the same emotional content that they do in the unaltered speech. Why? Because as we are decoding the meaning of the utterances we call language, our minds are, in parallel, analyzing, judging, and being affected by, qualities of voice that have nothing to do with words.

In one experiment scientists created recordings of a couple dozen speakers answering the same two questions, one political, one personal: What is your opinion of college admissions designed to favor minority groups? and What would you do if you suddenly won or inherited a great sum of money? Then they created four additional versions of each answer by electronically raising and lowering the speakers’ pitch by 20 percent, and by quickening or slowing their speech rate by 30 percent. The resulting speech still sounded natural, and its acoustic properties remained within the normal range. But would the alterations affect listeners’ perceptions? The researchers recruited dozens of volunteers to judge the speech samples. The judges each heard and rated just one version of each speaker’s voice, randomly chosen from among the original and altered recordings. Since the content of the speakers’ answers didn’t vary amongst the different versions, but the vocal qualities of their voice did, differences in the listeners’ assessments would be due to the influence of vocal qualities and not the content of the speech. The result: speakers with higher-pitched voices were judged to be less truthful, less emphatic, less potent, and more nervous than speakers with lower pitched voices. Also, slower-talking speakers were judged to be less truthful, less persuasive, and more passive than people who spoke faster. So fast-talking may be a cliché trait of a sleazy salesman, but chances are, a little speed-up will make you sound smarter and more convincing. And if two speakers utter exactly the same words, but one speaks a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume, that speaker will be judged to be more energetic, knowledgeable and intelligent.

Expressive speech, with modulation in pitch and volume, and a minimum of noticeable pauses, boosts credibility and enhances the impression of intelligence. Other studies show that, just as people signal the basic emotions through facial expression, we also do it through voice. Listeners instinctively detect that when we lower the usual pitch of our voice, we are sad, and when we raise it we are angry or fearful.

If voice makes such a huge impression, the key question becomes, to what extent can we consciously alter our voice? Consider the case of Margaret Hilda Roberts, who in 1959 was elected as a Conservative member of British parliament for north London. She had higher ambitions, but to those in her inner circle, her voice was an issue. “She had a schoolmarmish, very slightly bossy, slightly hectoring voice,” recalled Tim Bell, the mastermind of her party’s publicity campaigns. Her own publicity advisor Gordon Reese was more graphic. Her high notes, he said, were “dangerous to passing sparrows.” Proving that though her politics were fixed, her voice was pliable, Margaret Hilda Roberts took her confidants’ advice, lowered the pitch, and increased her social dominance. There is no way to measure exactly how much difference the change made, but she did pretty well for herself. After the Conservatives were defeated in 1974, Margaret Thatcher – she had married wealthy businessman Denis Thatcher in 1951 – became party leader and eventually prime minister.

Adapted from Subliminal: how your unconscious mind rules your behaviorcopyright 2012 by Leonard Mlodinow

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Think about it…

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4 Vital Interview Questions to Ask

Most job candidates feel interview questions can be decoded and hacked, letting them respond to those questions with “perfect” answers.

And they’re right, especially if you insist on asking opinion-based job interview questions.

(Quick aside: Is there really a perfect answer to a question like, “What do you feel is your biggest weakness?” I think there is: “If that’s the kind of question you typically ask, I don’t want to work for you.”)

Asking opinion-based questions is a complete waste of time. Every candidate comes prepared to answer general questions about teamwork, initiative, interpersonal skills, and leadership.

That’s why you should ask interview questions that elicit facts instead of opinions. Why? I can never rely on what you claim you will do, but I can learn a lot from what you have already done.

Where employee behavior and attitude are concerned, the past is a fairly reliable indication of the future.

How do you get to the facts? Ask. Ask an initial question. Then follow up: Dig deeper to fully understand the situation described, determine exactly what the candidate did (and did not do), and find out how things turned out. Follow-up questions don’t have to be complicated. “Really?” “Wow… so what did he do?” “What did she say?” “What happened next?” “How did that work out?”

All you have to do is keep the conversation going. At its best, an interview is really just a conversation.

Here are my four favorite behavioral interview questions:

1. “Tell me about the last time a customer or co-worker got mad at you.”

Purpose: Evaluate the candidate’s interpersonal skills and ability to deal with conflict.

Make sure you find out why the customer or co-worker was mad, what the interviewee did in response, and how the situation turned out both in the short- and long-term.

Warning sign: The interviewee pushes all the blame and responsibility for rectifying the situation on the other person.

Decent sign: The interviewee focuses on how they addressed and fixed the problem, not on who was to blame.

Great sign: The interviewee admits they caused the other person to be upset, took responsibility, and worked to make a bad situation better. Great employees are willing to admit when they are wrong, take responsibility for fixing their mistakes, and learn from experience.

Remember, every mistake is really just training in disguise… as long as the same mistake isn’t repeated over and over again, of course.

2. “Tell me about the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months.”

Purpose: Evaluate the candidate’s reasoning ability, problem solving skills, judgment, and possibly even willingness to take intelligent risks.

Warning sign: No answer. Everyone makes tough decisions, regardless of their position. My daughter works part-time as a server at a local restaurant and makes difficult decisions all the time – like the best way to deal with a regular customer whose behavior constitutes borderline harassment.

Decent sign: Made a difficult analytical or reasoning-based decision. For example, wading through reams of data to determine the best solution to a problem.

Great sign: Made a difficult interpersonal decision, or better yet a difficult data-driven decision that included interpersonal considerations and ramifications.

Making decisions based on data is important, but almost every decision has an impact on people as well. The best candidates naturally weigh all sides of an issue, not just the business or human side exclusively.

3. “Tell me about a time you knew you were right but still had to follow directions or guidelines.”

Purpose: Evaluate the candidate’s ability to follow, and possibly to lead.

Warning sign: Found a way to circumvent guidelines “… because I know I was right,” or followed the rules but allowed their performance to suffer.

Believe it or not, if you ask enough questions some candidates will tell you they were angry or felt stifled and didn’t work hard as a result, especially when they think you empathize with their “plight.”

Good sign: Did what needed to be done, especially in a time-critical situation, then found an appropriate time and place to raise issues and work to improve the status quo.

Great sign: Not only did what needed to be done, but also stayed motivated and helped motivate others as well.

In a peer setting, an employee who is able to say, “Hey, I’m not sure this makes sense either, but for now let’s just do our best and get it done…” is priceless.

In a supervisory setting, good leaders are able to debate and argue behind closed doors and then fully support a decision in public – even if they privately disagree with that decision.

4. “Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.”

Purpose: Evaluate commitment, ability to prioritize, and ability to communicate effectively.

Warning sign: “I just do what I have to do and get out. I keep telling my boss I can only do so much but he won’t listen…. “

Good sign: Stayed a few minutes late to finish a critical task, or prioritized before the end of the workday to ensure critical tasks were completed.

You shouldn’t expect heroic efforts every day, but some level of dedication is important.

Great sign: Stayed late and/or prioritized – but most importantly communicated early on that deadlines were in jeopardy. Good employees take care of things. Great employees take care of things and make sure others are aware of potential problems ahead of time just in case proactive decisions may help.

Obviously there are a number of good and great answers to this question. “I stayed until midnight to get it done,” can sometimes be a great answer, but doing so night after night indicates there are other organizational or productivity issues the employee should raise. I may sometimes be glad you stayed late, but I will always be glad when you help me spot chronic problems and bottlenecks.

Like with any other question, always evaluate a candidate’s answers to this question based on your company’s culture and organizational needs.

Few candidates can bluff their way through more than one or two follow-up questions. Turning the interview into a fact-based conversations helps you identify potential disconnects between the candidate’s resume and their actual experience, qualifications, and accomplishments.

And you’ll have a much better chance of identifying a potentially great employee, because a great employee will almost always shine during a fact-based interview.

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up fromghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden

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I get annoyed with other people and their communication habits when they …

Complete this sentence: “I get annoyed with other people and their communication habits when they …”

1. Interrupt me.

2. Finish my sentences.

3. Fail to look at me.

4. Chew gum loudly.

5. Type on the computer while we’re on the phone.

6. Mumble on a voicemail message.

7. Lack clarity in project directions.

8. Write their “out of office” message with spelling errors.

9. Complain, criticize, complain, criticize…

10. Say their phone number so fast on a voice mail that I can’t get it after replaying it seven times.

11. Ask me how I am and their facial expression clearly reveals they aren’t listening and don’t truly care.

12. Keep repeating information and making conversations and correspondence painfully long.

13. Inject nervous giggles or laughter into conversations that simply aren’t funny.

14. Forget to say their name in a voice mail message.

15. Try to impress me by “topping” whatever I say.

16. Get distracted with their gadgets and technology in meetings, conversations, and networking events.

17. Talk too fast or too slow.

18. Give wimpy handshakes.

19. Send a three-page email when one paragraph would suffice.

20. Plan lengthy meetings with no agenda, and then order food.

21. Speak louder to people with accents.

22. Deliver presentations in a monotone voice.

23. Eat while on the phone.

24. Call people out (in social media) in public instead of sending a private message.

25. Forget to update their voice mail to let people know they are on vacation for two weeks.

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Reinvent Your Career by Writing Your Own Narrative

A topsy-turvy world like the one in which we live offers us tremendous opportunities. But to tap them, we must remove the barriers within ourselves.

The crucial barriers are the ways we compartmentalize our experiences — keeping them uniquely bound to one kind of job or career. Avoid such compartmentalization. Break open those compartments and mix all of your experiences, knowledge, and skills into the precise blend that makes a new you.

Not long ago, I had a respected executive recruiter tell me I needed to “climb in a box” — drastically narrow what kind of work I was seeking to do in a new career move in order to get potential employers to fit me into one of the boxes they needed to fill. In effect, he was telling me that my various experiences, skills, and career narratives were mutually exclusive. I think that he was giving me dangerously wrong advice. Isn’t real innovation supposed to blow through thresholds to create something of new value?

I’ve made two major career moves in the span of four years. I left journalism to work with a Big Pharma CEO as his counselor for strategic affairs and then transitioned to doing industry analysis and thought leadership. In those instances in particular and throughout my life the consistent surprise was how I could draw on different skills and experiences to reinvent myself and create the optimal mix much like musicians use sound mixing boards to create the best sound. (My first pursuit as a young man was to be a rock musician.)

A mixing board is a large, imposing console with hundreds of dials and sliding faders to control volume. They are arranged in columns that control each instrument. A band playing music, whether live or recorded, uses a mixing board to blend in the precise tone and volume of each instrument, including voices, to make a complete sound. When mixed well, the music sound is transformed into something bigger and better than the the sum of the individual instruments and voices.

To use this as a template for personal innovation, visualize each of your experiences and skills in life as an instrument controlled on a sound mixing board. What if this experience were “louder” and this skill were “quieter”? What kinds of old experiences from divergent things could be used in new ways to change the overall “sound” of you?

Here are two simple examples of past experiences I’ve “mixed” higher to innovate me. I worked at a wastewater treatment plant (the sewer plant, we called it) as a summer job way back. One day a pony-tailed veteran named Fred gave me some advice: “If they ask if you can drive the bulldozer, you drive the bulldozer.” I brought this experience much higher into my focus when going to Big Pharma to work for the CEO. Without it, I might never have even positioned myself for the role.

Another singular example is with performing skills. Previously my career roles meant that I was in maximum listening mode. Although I had them, stagecraft-performing skills were virtually muted for decades in my mix until recently. Mixing these higher has helped me to be comfortable taking a new tack in being on stage more, presenting analytical ideas and thought leadership.

The permutations of building a new innovative mix of you are nearly endless. In a real-time career, as in live music, a mix does not stay static. Different parts of different songs require changes in feeling, tone, and volume. Similarly, one should always be prepared to tweak the “volumes” of what makes you valuable to your audience at the time.

by Christopher Bowe

Cross posted from The Harvard Business Review

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At GoodwillNWNC, We’ve Got to Act Fast…

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How to Follow Up on a Job Interview (Without Being Annoying)

You just interviewed for a job and you haven’t heard anything. Sometimes this is a sign of bad news, and sometimes it isn’t. You want to follow up and find out what’s going on, but you don’t want to be annoying. Here’s how to handle this situation effectively.

A friend of mine is currently in this position, and asked me how I’d word a follow-up email. When I tried to come up with something, I realized I hadn’t written one in many years and my skills were a bit rusty. So, I asked the internet for some help and got some good advice. Most agreed on a very simple process.

Send a Thank-you Note Immediately After the Interview

How to Follow Up on a Job Interview (Without Being Annoying)

Most people suggest sending a thank you note right away, via snail mail, as it takes a few days to arrive and serves as a positive reminder to get back to you. My sister, Ali, had a few good suggestions for its content:

I almost always will send snail mail to thank them for their time and let them know how nice it was to meet them. I say (if I believe it to be to true) what a nice environment they created for the interview/audition. And I say simply at the end, “I hope to see you again soon.”

It’s pretty simple, but very effective. The problem with calling or writing to ask for more information is that you’re essentially reminding them that they forgot to do something. Although it is legitimate to send this reminder, there’s a decent chance they’ll be annoyed that they have to deal with you (if they didn’t like you) or at least feel bad for ignoring you (if they did). A thank you note is simply a polite and positive reminder that you exist. It will help your interviewer(s) want to get back to you.

Send a Short, Polite Email to Check In

How to Follow Up on a Job Interview (Without Being Annoying)When you’ve finished your interview, you’ll often be told when you can expect to hear back. If not, that’s a question you should ask before the conversation is over. If that amount of time passes and you haven’t heard anything, it’s reasonable to call or write to check in. An email is less-intrusive and won’t put your interviewer on the spot, so it is generally a better way to ask the question. David Hill suggests that email contain two things:

I usually confine it to email and make it a quick note – thank them again for the interview and ask if there’s been an update/any movement on the position. If they respond, you can usually get a feel for whether you’re annoying the shit out of them.

Deanna Parkton suggests asking the interviewer if they need any additional qualifications or information so your message has an additional, helpful purposes as well.

Regardless of what you decide to do, be sure to keep it short. Here’s an example:


I just wanted to follow up in regards to my interview on [date — or "last week"]. Do you have an update, or do you need any further information from me? Please let me know when you have a free moment.

Thank you,
[Your Name]

Of course, this might be a bit formal. You’ll want to make the note sound like you and be as formal or casual as is appropriate for the situation. Either way, the content is pretty straightforward and only takes a few seconds to put together.

It can be a little nerve-wracking to ask for an update when you were supposed to hear back, as it feels like you’re asking for bad news, but that isn’t always the case. If you get bad news, there will be other job opportunities, but sometimes you’ll find out that the company needed an extra day because another interview was postponed or they simply haven’t had time to get back to everyone. You never know, and that’s why you ask.

Cross posted from Lifehacker

Photos by pjcross (Shutterstock), woodlywonderworks, and Elena Elisseeva (Shutterstock).

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