Personal development doesn’t always have to be about the big things in life, like changing attitudes or hunting down and squashing limiting beliefs.
This is the first of a series of articles the looks at the smaller and often overlooked aspects of personal growth. Don’t let that fool you though – small change magnified by time can become a very big change.
Each article in the series will look at a specific topic, why you might want to be aware of it, and how you can use it for your benefit. Once you have read through all of them you will have a menu of personal-development ideas that you can apply here and there throughout your day. Even better, you can begin today.
According to psychologists in any face-to-face communication the words that we speak account for 7% of the message. 38% is in our body language and a massive 55% is contained in what is called para-language. Put simply, para-language is the way that we say things. We can break this into even smaller areas, and the part that we are looking at in this post is the volume of our voice.
Now this may seem quite obvious, if we are in a library we speak quietly, if we’re in a busy pub we speak louder. Most people naturally adjust the volume of their voice to the situation. Like many things in life though, if we take a moment to think about it, there is much more below the surface.
Have you ever met anybody who speaks a little bit too loudly for the situation? They may come across as being dominant or even aggressive. What about people who speak quietly? They might be perceived as being shy, nervous or lacking in confidence.
There is something else going on too. When you are with another person, if you match the volume of your voice to theirs, you are sending a message which says “I am listening to you and I will change my behaviour to match yours.” It may be a very subtle message, but it will be picked up by the listener and it is an excellent tool for rapport building. Similarly there may be time when it’s appropriate to come across as slightly dominant or slightly subordinate and you can achieve either of these things by taking your volume a notch or lowering it to be slightly below theirs.
This is where the personal development part comes in.
The voice is a tool and like any tool, continued practice helps you to use it to it’s maximum potential.
Imagine that your voice has a volume control which goes from 1 to 10 with your normal speaking voice being a 5. While you’re driving in your car, in the shower or anywhere else where you are by yourself you could practice speaking some random sentences to yourself. I will often say things such as: “I’m now talking to myself at vol number 5, I’m walking round the kitchen and there is the cat.” It’s not important what you say, what is important is that you listen to the sound of your voice and notice how it feels in your stomach, your chest, your throat and the rest of your body.
In what way does it sound and feel differently if you lower your voice down to volume level of 4? Then take it down through 3, 2 and 1 until you’re speaking almost in a whisper. Then go back up through the numbers to 5 and then increase the loudness through 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 until you’re speaking as loud as possible without shouting. Each time that you shift up or down a level, notice what is different.
As you do this more often, it begins to feel incredibly empowering as you realise that you have control of something that you used to take for granted.
When you are with other people, you can begin to notice how the volume of their voice changes your perceptions of them. Be aware too of the level that you are speaking at and the effect that it may be having on them.
There is a huge amount of information about others in the volume that they speak at, it’s always been there whether you’ve noticed or not. What you are doing now is beginning to tune into a particular part of communication that many people just don’t realise exists.
- How can you use this?
- How does it fit in with your day-to-day life, with your family and your work?
- How can you use your voice as a way of influencing others?
- What happens in your relationships if you lower your voice slightly and what happens if you raise it?
- What if you begin a conversation matching the other person’s voice and then raise or lower the volume as the conversation progresses?
Notice here I’m asking questions rather than giving answers. I don’t know what your experience will be; after all this is personal-development. It’s about you not me.
So why not, just for today, think about the volume that you are speaking at and spend 5 minutes working with it. No other reason than to see what is different. At the very least you will begin to notice things that you hadn’t noticed before and possibly, you may have a new way to of influencing others.
It would be interesting to know what would happen if you spent a whole week focusing on this one aspect of the world around you.
One final point for now. Some of you will have come across The Wheel of Life. It’s a very common coaching tool where people are asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10 how their life is working out in different areas. For example a person may say:
Money – 5
Friends and family – 7
Love life – 9
Career – 4
Home – 6
Personal growth – 7
They may then choose to begin focusing on the area of career as it’s particularly weak for them at the moment. An interesting thing happens though. Very often when they start to work on one area, things begin to magically improve in others too. It’s not magic of course. It works because our life is not a series of pockets or components, we are one whole and joined up person. As we start to work on ourself in one area, we grow in others too.
I wonder what other benefits you will notice after spending some time thinking about something as simple as how loudly you are speaking?
As with all personal development a useful attitude to approach this with is one of curiosity and a desire to learn. Above all have fun!