What began as a high school affection mostly used by girls is affecting men’s success too.
As a former radio personality and, now, podcaster and communications coach, I’ve analyzed my share of conversation styles over the years.
As I’ve begun to work with more and more younger clientele, however, I’ve noticed a certain style – once relegated to the teen years and prevalent mostly among girls – has managed to survive the college years of many young men and women, and started to make its way around the workplace.After interviews with dozens of New York Times bestselling authors like Daniel Pink, John Maxwell, and Seth Godin, along with entertainers, musicians, movie directors and more, I can honestly say I’ve experienced all kinds of communicators; many of them quite effective in their own way.
Do You Sound Like a Game of 20 Questions?
I’m referring, of course, to ‘uptalk,’ sometimes referred to as ‘upspeak.’
Wikipedia defines the phenomenon, also known as High Rising Terminal or HRI, as “a feature of some accents of English where declarative sentences are uttered with rising-pitch intonation.”
Take these otherwise declarative sentences for example:
“I’m headed to the supermarket. I’ll get some bread and milk. Then, I plan to head home.”
If you’re serial uptalker, your version would sound anything but declarative. In written form, they’d look like this (try reading these and the above examples aloud and compare):
“I’m headed to the supermarket? I’ll get some bread and milk? Then, I plan to head home?”
Did you hear it?
Why It Matters
So what’s the big deal you may ask? There are several ways this vocal miscue could be adversely impacting you. When exhibiting excessive upspeak, those with whom you interact are more likely to consider you, consciously or not, as sounding:
- Unsure of yourself
- Less confident in your decision making
- As if you expect them to provide an answer, or are looking to them for validation
I’m going to guess that’s not the response you’d prefer others have of your conversations.
In an interview with former White House press secretary Dana Perino back in July, she shared with me some of her thoughts on the topic from her recent book, And the Good News Is…
“When every sentence ends as a question, the speaker doesn’t have to own anything that they say. It starts because they’re trying to test the waters…seeing if they can express themselves in a way that’s acceptable to their peers or elders.”
Dana goes on to say, “It’s a fad that’s often broken between high school and college. But I’m actually seeing it in the workplace now. It’s no longer just young girls, but young men are starting to talk this way as well.
“I’m convinced that it’s preventing young people from advancing in the workplace. I would never promote someone who talked like that. I would never want to put them in front of a client. The thing is, most young people don’t even know they’re doing it. It sounds so normal to them.”
What to Do About It
So, what should you do if you think you’re guilty of uptalking and want to be sure?
The next time you’re in a staff or client meeting, or even during a presentation, record yourself talking. Virtually everyone has a recording device as close as they’re smart phone. Use that if nothing else is available.
Afterward, listen back. Do you end your sentences with an “up tone” excessively?
Or, ask someone whose opinion you value and trust whether you sometimes sound unsure of yourself or occasionally seem to lack confidence. Be prepared for whatever answer they give.
If you discover you’ve been infected with “uptalk” disease, then try this simple exercise.
Dana refers to the area just below the sternum as the “power center.” Literally push on it just a bit, she says, and “speak like you mean it.”
If the culprit, however, is not you but someone you know – your own child, a niece or nephew, a fellow co-worker – Dana says it’s your responsibility to say something, as long as you do it privately and with an attitude of helpfulness. Encourage them, she says, to “find their strong voice,” using the power center technique above.
Effective Communication = Success
Simply put, I have yet to see anyone achieve success in life who was unable to effectively share his ideas in public.
Make sure the road to success for you or someone you care about isn’t hampered by what others will view, right or wrong, as a lack of confidence in our own ideas because of uptalking.
Photo: Getty Images