And rather than talk in generalities, I think it will be most useful if I discuss a micro but important issue in relation to career management each time.
Career Management is such a funny area of our lives – nothing I or any of our team of consultants say to our clients is rocket science. However, I at least, can confirm that in 13 years or so of working in this field, NO-ONE has ever said to me: “You didn’t need to tell me that – I already knew.”
Somehow, we seem to stumble from school to the various professional pathways our lives then take, without having access to such valuable information.
So, where to start? I’m not going to start at the beginning, if there ever is such an easily identifiable starting place – it’s going to be chronological. By that I mean, it’s been the most recent issue that I’ve been thinking about.
The dreaded Aussie Rising Intonation
Coming back from overseas last month, I was struck as most of us are by our Aussie accent. What I noticed especially was what I call the ‘dreaded rising intonation’. Most of us do it at some time or another, especially those of us who were brought up in the Eastern States. Some social commentators speak quite fondly about how it demonstrates our lack of pretension, our easy going nature.
What is Rising Intonation?
In English, we raise our voices at the end of a sentence to tell the listener that we are asking a question. That’s rising intonation. Unfortunately, here in Australia we have mastered the act of raising our voice this way, at the end of every sentence regardless of whether we are asking a question or not.
Who cares, I hear you ask?
There are two areas where speaking constantly in a question can damage your career. The most critical is during interviews. Having worked with so many people in interview role plays, I’ve found that most people will show at least some signs of it. Perhaps it’s the stress of being the sole focus of attention when talking about their work behaviour. So, I don’t get worried about the occasional use.
The issue becomes critical when you talk this way in too often. Just look at the following examples:
“I’ve always had strong leadership qualities?”
”People have always enjoyed working with me?”
“I have the ability to influence people, to get them to come on board with my new ideas?”
If you answer this way, you sound as though you are questioning your own abilities. All of a sudden, your convincing, interesting work story proving a critical skill loses its punch. If, in addition, you have a weak, hesitant delivery style, you raise further doubts in the mind of the listener (your “buyer”). You may find that you miss out on the role because it has gone to someone who just sounded more confident, more sure, more capable.
The message your voice sends
Perhaps not so critical as the interview performance, is the message that this habit sends in your everyday interactions at work e.g. when you speak up in meetings / in the board room. Luckily, many people will not notice, but it will drive those people who notice it around the bend. (I find I have to switch radio channels if I am listening to someone who has the habit.) To other listeners who don’t find it difficult to listen to, it nevertheless weakens your overall message – it can damage your credibility and authority.
So, if you have aspirations for a role where you will need to influence people, it is worth ridding yourself of this habit.
How to Stop the Habit
I suppose the first step is to ascertain whether you have the habit or not. You’ll just need to find someone who is likely to notice and ask them. Then, it’s a matter of hard work to break the habit.
I’ve found that it takes me about 6 months to rid myself of a bad voice/choice of words habit. Firstly, you need to actually hear yourself do it, which can take some months. Then, it’s a simple, but difficult exercise of re-phrasing the statement.
One of the small but important issues I think many people ignore, when it comes to managing their persona in the workplace, is the sound of their own voice. An often-quoted statistic is that 40% of the impression we make on a stranger comes from our voice. Yet, when I work with people and ask them whether they consider their voice to be an asset or a liability, they cannot answer.
Rising Intonation is just one of the issues to consider. You may also have a high pitched voice, a nasal tone, may speak too slowly, or have minimal animation. What impression does your voice make and do you need to change that? Find a trusted, astute friend, ask for feedback and start making the changes.
aBOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Cunningham is Adelaide's leading career expert. She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's CareerOne, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au