Growing up, my mother and father demanded that my sister and I speak loudly and clearly enough to be heard. If we fell short of their expectations, we would hear the command, “Speak up, child, and express yourself!” They would offer it in an exaggerated accent, and it eventually became a source of amusement rather than real reprimand.
People have heard me say in workshops, “It shouldn’t hurt to listen, so please speak loudly enough to be heard.” I know some people have very legitimate reasons for talking softly, such as a hearing or speech difficulty, but sometimes our volume level is simply a matter of habit. Or is it?
In the world of communication, there is something called “conversational control.” This can include who talks the most, who interrupts whom, who changes the topic most often, and it also can include vocal volume. The matter becomes one of control when someone manipulates his or her volume as a way to gain power.
Think about it. When you are in conversation with a ‘low talker’ (thanks, Jerry Seinfeld), you have to move in, lean forward, try harder and pay more attention. In other words, the low talker has forced you to expend your energy to be engaged. It can be exhausting!
I had a student once who had this tendency. He wanted to be an active (real active) contributor to class discussions. And, when I called on him to offer ideas, his vocal volume was so low that I consistently had to ask him to repeat himself. Finally, I chose to ignore his waving hand – mainly because I needed to protect him from the venomous glares of his classmates. Needless to say, he did not win the “most-popular-in-the-class” award.
Our vocal volume says VOLUMES about who we are and how we want to connect with others. Let’s be mindful. Get some feedback. Ramp it up or tone it down. We can choose.
P.S. I’m working on my cell phone volume. I promise!