Voice, Noise and Choice

by Belinda Munoz on July 5, 2010

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VOICE

I’m very interested in how we use our voice.  Voice takes on multiple versions that address many facets of any given life.  The voice of a buyer differs from that of a seller, the sick from that of a healer and the student from that of a teacher.

My parental voice vastly differs from my professional voice.  As a parent, I speak with a nurturing, maternal tone that would likely be perceived inappropriate in a professional setting.  Sweetheart, remember to say thank you could very easily seem condescending to a colleague.

NOISE

The roles we play can be put in simple terms.  Still, the message we deliver from a specific persona does not always come through loud and clear.  A voice that says I have the solution to your problem can sound pompous and unsolicited even if it means to be helpful.  Our voice can sound terse and impersonal when we mean to be factual and pragmatic.  Or it can come off tense or nervous when we struggle to communicate just the facts without disquieting emotion creeping into the words.

Often, there’s extraneous noise that creeps in to the message, making it diluted or drowned out.  Like the voice of a panicked person.  Sandra Bullock’s character in The Net comes to mind when she realizes her identity has been stolen.

And then there’s the danger of sounding like fireworks; traditional and repetitive yet loud and showy without saying anything.  (I happen to like fireworks but this analogy seems to work at least in my view.)

CHOICE

It’s no wonder we run into problems in communication.  Our intention, emotion, vocabulary and delivery can create a jumble that causes our message to be convoluted and therefore misread.

But as always, we have a choice with regard to what we tell others.  We have a choice when it comes to what we tell ourselves.

My aim, my hope, is to speak with sincerity that comes from a source of life-giving encouragement, compassion and love.  It’s a struggle.  But knowing how much I appreciate being on the receiving end makes the effort worthwhile.

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What tone of voice do you respond to and are you most likely to listen to?
What tone of voice works best for you in getting your message across in various aspects of your being?
Is it possible for a person to have one voice that satisfies all aspects of his/her life?
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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kate July 5, 2010 at 5:18 am

Hi Belinda,
This is so true, my voice is very different depending on many things – who I am talking to, the message I am trying to convey etc etc. I try my best not to beat around the bush (especially with bad news) and just give facts directly. However that can sometimes sound too blunt and uncaring, so a little preamble may soften the blow.
I think overall it is a difficult subject and there could be many approaches – it is one of those things that has to be tailored individually for every situation,
Best wishes,
Kate

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2 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Kate, your comment reminds me that I was very blunt for many years and that didn’t prove to be the best way to nurture friendships. I learned from someone that a good way to deliver bad news or honest feedback is like a sandwich: start with something soft, then the meat, then close with something soft. If only I can remember this each time.

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3 TheKitchenWitch July 5, 2010 at 5:43 am

Sometimes, my kids will thoroughly exasperate me and this sharp, shrill, snappy voice comes out of my mouth. I hear it and immediately want to slap myself. Ugh! I hate sounding like a shrew.

I also cringe whenever I hear my voice on any type of recording. It’s much higher than I think it is…I don’t really like it. 🙁

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4 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I’m totally with you on the first part of your comment, Kitch. And the second part? My husband happens to have a smooth and silky voice being a recording artist so I don’t get anywhere near anything where my voice gets played back.

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5 Meg July 5, 2010 at 7:59 am

I am deaf, wear very powerful hearing aids and lipread. I’ve been told my speech is quite good, but of course that is relative to the deafness. Speaking is a performance art, something that takes training and practice and never feels 100% natural. I don’t really have much control over how I sound, particularly if I get angry. Nonetheless I talk a lot because that is how I’ve grown up and continue to live–mainstreamed, nonsigning, and living with talkative nonsigning hearing people.

I am not tone-deaf, and respond to different voices in different ways. But the speaker’s facial expression is paramount. Over time I learn that certain facial expressions combined with certain vocal tones have positive, neutral, or negative meanings. Cultural differences can really throw me off. Non-Americans smile a lot less and I often interpret those speakers as negative when they are not.

Writing, on the other hand, is a much more satisfying means of expression. I’m a lot more confident, and can adapt the tone/voice for the the situation. My assessment of others’ written words is more confident, as well.

It seems impossible to have just one voice for everything, for all circumstances. Certainly it seems non-human.

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6 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Hi Meg, thanks for bringing up cultural differences. I admit to having been put off by tones that seem angry or cold, forgetting that culture may be a factor in a particular interaction.

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7 Joshua Noerr July 5, 2010 at 10:11 am

I find that my tone of voice isn’t the only thing that changes, my word choice also does the same, when I am with the people around whom I grew up. They know me, we all came from a very different place than I find myself now.

This can be good and bad. I get criticism from them as having gone soft if I don’t slip back into our old way of speaking, although as a person, I am far past that.

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8 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Hi Joshua, welcome to The Halfway Point! I find it interesting when others can’t handle it when someone changes. It is after all part of growing. Thanks for visiting and I hope to see you again soon.

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9 Nicki July 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

So true, how voice and tone effect what we hear. I sat at a three day workshop last week and found it interesting the way employees of one school district in attendance appeared to tune out the minute the superintendent from said district was the presenter. Was it the monotone voice? Was it something to do with the person speaking? What was the issue?

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10 Maggie July 5, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I think that variety of tone/word choice/etc. is important for different situations, as you pointed out, but there should be some element of consistency at least in the message. I have the same values and opinions at work as I do at home, for example.

I love your fireworks analogy! I’m definitely a talker and I would love to work on being more conscious of what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, and whether it adds value to the present situation or not. Thanks for giving me some great points to ponder.

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11 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Hi Maggie, welcome to The Halfway Point! I’m glad that you brought up consistency of values. I think it’s integral to not only being sincere in how we communicate but in finding strength in everyday life. Thanks for finding your way here and I hope to hear from you again soon.

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12 BigLittleWolf July 5, 2010 at 1:32 pm

What a fascinating and important topic Belinda. Voice, in all its meanings. Not only what we convey (without intention) when we speak, to our children, our partners, our colleagues – but voice in writing, the inner voice. Our many voices.

They cannot always be encouraging, but let’s hope that even when they must deal with difficult topics, they do so constructively. In terms of message (without noise), and tone of voice.

I wish I could say that my tone always matches my intent; too often it mirrors unmastered emotions. That’s when taking a breath, calming myself, and then speaking is of assistance.

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13 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Yes, BLW. I all too often fail to pause before speaking when emotions are involved. I need to work on that.

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14 Katie Tallo July 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Interesting questions Belinda. I try to have one voice for all, but it doesn’t always work. Now that my daughter’s older, I feel I can speak to her more as a friend so my tone is less maternal, unless she’s acting like a baby. My writing voice I try to keep close to who I am. I think it is something to strive for, to have one voice. To be who you are no matter who the audience is.

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15 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Katie, I just love when a mother and daughter can speak to each other as friends. It makes me feel that we do all kinds of things right. As for that writing voice, I’d love to hear how you approach fiction writing, if you do any.

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16 rob white July 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Hi Belinda,
I find that I have very different voices depending on which hat I am wearing. At times I can let my passion take over and come off harsh and scolding… this is a bad habit of mine. However; I do not want to lose this because it is a side that has proved to be very effective as a business man. There is also a voice that is compassionate and wise… this is who I love being the most. Nothing makes me feel greater when I am totally taken with this ‘beingness.’ This is a great article because it is always important to be aware of which one of our voices is showing up. It is empowering to notice when we are being the voice that is our Authentic Self shining through.

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17 Tess The Bold Life July 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I have a loud and booming voice due to my ADHD and it’s taken me a life time to learn how to reign it in. My laugh is loud and people often tell me they can hear me from afar. I had to make peace with my voice as well. I love my grandchildren voice, it’s more playful, joyful but it’s still loud and sometimes it still scares them.

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18 Tony Single July 5, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Like Meg, I’m a deaf person living “mainstream”. I don’t sign and am always surrounded by talkative, nonsigning, hearing people. She is spot on when she says facial expression is just as important as speech intonation.

For example, if someone is saying something to me in a sarcastic voice but they’re also looking at me conspiratorially, I know then that I’m being let in on the joke. If their voice is dripping in sarcasm, their back somewhat turned to me and they’re rolling their eyes in my direction, I usually suspect that the joke is at my expense. So I have found that intonation and speech pattern can be just one part of the overall puzzle of how people communicate. 🙂

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19 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Tony, I smile because I think it’s so appropriate to call how we communicate a puzzle. I have on occasion found myself scratching my head when someone appears to be warm one day and then icy the next.

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20 Madeleine Kolb July 5, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Belinda, This post is interesting to me, in part because of my years in Toastmasters. TM clubs emphasize vocal variety quite a bit, mostly to avoid speaking in a montone but also to add interest to one’s speech.

I like a voice with some variety but hate those fast-talking, too loud commercials on TV (which is one of the reasons I almost never watch it). I don’t think one voice fits all. As you suggest, the way we speak to a young child would not be appropriate when speaking to a colleague at work. I try for a calm, respectful voice and tone when speaking to adults, and that it usually works well.

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21 Indigo July 6, 2010 at 8:10 am

For me voice comes through in gestures, body language, facial expressions. Honestly I never realized before my deafness, how harsh someones voice could be. When you put all the characteristics of the above together, it comes through loud and clear. (Hugs)Indigo

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22 Belinda Munoz July 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Indigo, I tend to pay attention to words more closely when I determine what a person means. But I do appreciate a warm gesture, a smile and a hug when words aren’t enough. Hugs.

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23 Patty - Why Not Start Now? July 6, 2010 at 1:14 pm

You always write about the most interesting things, Belinda. I’ve been told I have a calming, warm, affirming voice, although I don’t always like the sound of it. But I know how my voice comes across is certainly about choice, as you say. It’s not so calm and warm when I’m stressed or angry, that’s for sure. I’m going to think more about that. So thanks for writing about it.

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24 Christine LaRocque July 6, 2010 at 5:50 pm

You know, I agree, we do have so many different voices. But I also think we have so many interpretations of voices and so it can sometimes end up being one big jumble. One big jumble of roles and expectations.

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