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What Is The Voice Of Leadership?

Recently I had the opportunity to be a part of a diverse panel of professionals to discuss The Unconscious Bias of Voice and Accent with the EACCNY. The topic was one that has interested me for quite a long time since I work with a global clientele. Is there an unconscious bias when it comes to accents and voice? Which leads to our next question, “is there a voice of leadership?” 

In our deeply connected world where we can span the globe in moments, we are experiencing a whole new array of speaking styles, speaking norms, cultural styles and accents. In six short months we have become a culture where our voices, gestures, facial expressions and how we communicate are front and center of the screen which could leave us all feeling a little understandably vulnerable.  


As discussed by our panel there seems to be many elements a voice can convey. We also had some very interesting answers from our audience about what information a voice can give you. From confidence, to gravitas, to calm, we are tuning in to the sound of our voice, and other people’s voices much more than we thought. One of polls even showed that a large percentage of the audience have worked on their own voices in a professional setting. But is this really necessary? 

There Are Some Unique Characterstics To Different Voices


Just like going to the gym, we can get very fit based on body type, but our expectations are not one size fits all. The same goes for voice and speaking style. Your expectations for yourself should not be based on a perception, or a one size fits all approach. Furthermore, there are some unique characteristics to different voices that can be developed to be memorable, from different tones, to accents, to energy levels, they are something personal and part of you. 


Another parameter that affects our speaking styles is culture. As we use video conferencing calls around the world, it is clear that culture impacts communication on global teams. An element of voice, such as volume, might be valued as commanding in one part of the world, and rude in another. So now the question that comes up is, do we need to change the way we use our voice, or do we need to learn to listen differently? 


One great example of this is Margaret Thatcher. Her speaking style commanded presence but it was not always this way. When she got into government office, she was told that her voice was too high pitched and she needed vocal coaching, which she did and went on to become one of the more memorable leaders of modern days. 

How We Use Our Voice And How We Listen


Women’s voices, however, tend to still receive criticism in the professional arena. That “higher pitch” or emotional sound that some women have is partly anatomical, partly cultural, and partly personal. A woman’s natural pitch range is from 185 to 220 Hz. A man’s pitch range is about 98-123 Hz. When people get stressed, their voices naturally get higher, so for women that could give off the perception of what some describe as “emotional.” Women often come to me for executive voice coaching to improve their own vocal presence. They say their voices can go unheard in some situations because they might be talked over. Online interactions are no different. 


Men and women both tend to prefer lower pitch voices when talking about the voices they admire. Our preferences, perceptions and personal experiences play a role in this. We need to think about not only how we use our voice, and how we communicate, but also how we listen. As we continue to communicate within this global world, we need to understand where our own biases come from. This includes how these biases are triggered, and if they show up when we are engaging with someone who might not communicate or use their voices in a way that we would expect from a leader. Yet, those same leaders are still delivering key messages despite any bias one may have for the voice. Let us try to develop a culture of tuning in to our colleagues, and friends so we understand why we are tuning out.

Lisa Patti, Founder C3Speech


This article was first published at The European American Chamber of Commerce in New York.

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