Tag Archives: Voice

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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Body Language Can Speak Volumes

Often times when preparing for an interview, we get so caught up in finding the right words to say that we forget about what we don’t say actually can make a difference as well.  Your body can speak volumes about you without you even saying a word.  It is one of those things that can be overlooked, but it is just as important when trying to make a good impression.

Some of the given gestures include good eye contact, smiling, and good posture but many people don’t know why.  Having good eye contact….natural eye contact, can convey that you are self confident and sure about what it is that you are saying, smiling gives the impression that you are a happy, vibrant person, and good posture just shows that you’re interested, alert, and paying attention.  Careful not to sit too erect though or the confidence that you made sure to display will be diminished and you may be seen as nervous.

It’s all about balance.  Your words and gestures need to be on one accord.  Facial expressions should match your tone of voice; pleasant expressions should accompany pleasant words.  Here is an illustration of how it all comes together: It’s hard to appear as the best candidate for an early AM, customer facing position if your eyes have grocery bags beneath them or are blood shot red.  The first thing to come to mind would be, “This is not a morning person, and therefore not the one for the job”.   The remedy for this would be to get a good night’s rest beforehand and maybe invest in some Clear Eyes to get the red out.  You still may not be a morning person, but at least you would look the part.

Another important point to remember is to appear engaged and receptive.  This can be achieved by subtle acknowledgements during the conversation, such as a nod, or an “I see”, and by keeping your body open….cross nothing!  This is especially important for men.  Crossing your arms or legs gives the impression that you’re guarding something and are not receptive to what’s being said.  The same goes for women, but if it must be done, crossing your legs at the ankle is the only acceptable form.

Thirdly, be mindful of not just what you’re saying, but how you say it.  Don’t speak too fast or too slow, too loud or too soft.  Watch the inflection at the end of your sentences.    Lifting your voice at the end of a statement makes it sounds like a question or even worse, like you are unsure about what you’ve just said.  Lowering your voice too low can make it difficult to hear.   Practice eliminating excess words such as, “like”, “you know”, “um”, “stuff” and “whatever”.  Using these words in excess can cause you to be seen as immature rather than professional in the eyes of an employer.

Keeping these things in mind will help you in your pursuit of employment.  These tips may not get the job for you, but at least they won’t be the reason why you didn’t.

Christien C. Amour

Data and Reporting Specialist

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Filed under Attitude, Courtesy, Self-Improvement, Skill, Tool Box