Unit 8 Text B
The Mystery of Speaking Effectively
Why that is some people have a seemingly natural ability to get attention and respect when they speak? What is it that makes others listen and pay attention to their words? It isn’t
necessarily a question of status, or the content of what they say. Such people often don’t speak
“Oxford” English, expiree themselves using perfect grammatical constructions, or even use appropriate words. What they do have is resonance. Such people tend to have beautiful, rich voices and to use the lower end of their voice range. Observe and listen to others. People who speak quickly and breathily in a high-pitched voice do not appear as assertive as those who speak more slowly using deeper voice tones. The lower pitch conveys control and confidence.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that from now on you self-consciously lower the tone of your voice when you speak, but you can begin to achieve greater resonance by practicing the way you breathe. Try this. Stand in front of a mirror breathing naturally. Now draw a deep breath. Does your chest expand? Do your shoulders rise? I think so. You are breathing “high”, using your
rib rather than your abdominal muscles. Try again, this time putting your hands across your stomach. When you breathe in, consciously keep your shoulders lowered and fill your lungs from the abdomen – you will feel your stomach expanding. If you practice abdominal breathing, you will be utilizing all, not just the top, of your lungs, which in itself must be beneficial. You will also be engaging your diaphragm more, and this in turn will access the lower end of your voice range and add resonance to your voice, conveying more authority.
Words delivered in a monotone soon become just that-monotonous! Your delivery will need light and shade if you want to keep the attention of your listener. Assertive delivery requires smooth-flowing, resonant inflection; the voice will be relaxed with enough volume to be heard distinctly without being overpowering.
However, there are some occasions when assertive behavior requires a little more power than generally recommended for everyday conversations. If you were to see a small child about to put her hand into an activated food-processor, it would be inappropriate to say, in a low-pitched, relaxed way, “I’d prefer you not to put your hand into that food-processor.” Assertive,
yes; practical, no! Obviously, there are occasions – when someone’s personal safety is at risk, for
instance – when more force of delivery is required.
The content of the communication doesn’t have to become aggressive, however. In the
above example, a loud, sharp “NO” to stop the action immediately and demand attention,
followed by a forceful explanation of why that was a dangerous thing to do, would be an appropriate response, whereas “Stop! Don’t do that you stupid child!” would be an inappropriate
(though human and understandable) one. The whole child is labeled as “stupid” rather than the
action itself being criticized. Appropriate volume and intonation without aggressive tons will give the other person the message that you mean business.
Another common failing is that when we are tense, overworked or just irritable, we often respond with a force totally inappropriate to the situation.
To give an example: you are reading an interesting article in the Sunday papers. Your partner is reading the supplement and constantly interrupts, reading aloud witty bits and snippets. It’s
breaking your concentration and making you disturbed. You say nothing, but when she then asks something which requires a response, like “Do you want a coffee?” you respond “No, I don’t; we
only had one half an hour ago. Why are you so talkative?”
The intensity of the response reflects your annoyance at the previous interruptions and is certainly unfair, and totally inappropriate to the situation. (It might also reflect irritation at your own lack of assertion when earlier you should have said something like, “Can you read that to me
later? This article is a bit complex and I need to concentrate.”)
There are occasions in everyone’s life, social and business, when the skill of using
appropriate volume and force needs to be practiced. For example, when you have given an assertive request in clear, .level tones and that request is ignored, you have two choices: give up the fight and put up with the situation as it is, or make your request again, this time with a little more force. If you take the latter course, you could either change the way of your request, making it a directive which will give the message more “punch“and / or increase volume, altering
intonation to match the emotion behind the delivery. If you are interested in this, you can have a try.