Your Speaking Defines You
Let’s play a little game. I’m going to repeat a story in three different ways. After you read the versions, I’ll ask some questions.
Speaker 1: We was driving on the highway when we seen this car comin’ up behind real fast swervin’ all over the place. I said maybe we should pull over but before we could, he rams our backend. Nuthin’ we could do.
Speaker 2: We were like driving on like the 405 and there’s like this car coming up like real fast and he’s like swerving and stuff. I was like “Pull over” but there’s like no place to pull off, so he like hits us and we’re all like what the heck just happened?
Speaker 3: We were driving east on the freeway and we noticed a car behind us. It was clearly speeding and was changing lanes repeatedly. I suggested pulling over but before we could make a move, the car rear-ended us.
Now the game. Make three columns on a piece of paper, one for each speaker. In the column under “Speaker 1,” tell me everything you can about the speaker. How old is the speaker? Where does the speaker live? What kind of music does he/she listen to? What kind of vehicle do they own? List all the jobs you imagine Speaker 1 might have. At a law firm? A landscape company? A clothing store? A trucking company? A dental office? An elementary school? A pizza shop? Come up with ten jobs that you think would be likely for Speaker 1. I know some of you will say, “But I don’t know them!” Most of you, however, will be able to come up with some guesses. Do the same for Speakers 2 and 3.
Look at the lists. How many judgments were you able to make just based on how they spoke? A lot, right? Are the lists the same? For example, did you put the same jobs on Speaker 1’s list as you did on Speaker 3’s? When I do this in workshops, most participants feel confident about lots of their answers based only on these sentences. Male/female, urban/rural, car/truck, country/pop/easy listening, mall store/dentist, and more. The point? The way you speak matters. Judgments are made. Sure, those judgments may be wrong, but why let your speech patterns pigeon-hole you? Be aware of how you speak and how your speaking creates impressions about who you are.
Notice that I didn’t say, “One of these speakers speaks well and the others don’t.” I am not suggesting right/wrong, good/bad. How is speaking well defined? All three speakers are effective speakers: the listeners understood the situation. All three speakers may be effective given the right audience. “That boy ain’t right” works well in a certain place, better than “I believe there is something wrong with that young man” would. Speaking effectively, then, is situational. But that doesn’t stop listeners from judging and making conclusions about the speaker. Be aware and be warned.
“But this is who I am! I’m like not gonna like change and stuff just to like fit in or something.” I understand that kind of thinking. If your style fits the situation you want to be in, fine. Often, though, I find people who want to make professional progress and are not fully aware of how their verbal skills get in the way. And I understand how, like it or not, some styles of speaking diminish the way the world looks at you. Many workplace decisions come down to oral communication skill. Does your oral communication convey the impression you want?
Bottom line: oral communication impacts the way you are viewed which impacts your professional and social life. Speaking matters.