What Your Voice Reveals About You

The social and psychological conditioning of voice.

Posted Jul 31, 2016

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“A nice and soft voice is a way of life.” ― Common Eastern saying

"Children should be seen and not heard.” ― Common Western saying

Do you like the sound of your speaking voice? Many people don't.

It could be said that our voices often reveal much about our life experience in general —and social, cultural, developmental, and psychological conditioning in particular.

The voice is a primary mode of our self-expression. How we chose to use (or limit) this instrument reveals much about our self-perceived strengths and weaknesses, most of which we learned from life experiences, often when we were still young.

Below are five examples of how social, cultural, developmental, and psychological conditioning affect vocal projection, with excerpts from my book, "How to Improve the Sound of Your Speaking Voice". All of the cases below are from my voice work with clients and students:

  1. A large and burly man with a very thin voice told me that, growing up, his parents yelled at him whenever he raised his voice. As the result, he always spoke quietly. Over the years, he simply forgot how to use his natural, adult masculine voice. 
  2. A female college student from a non-Western country informed me that her mother often reminded her: “A nice and soft voice is a way of life.” This student did indeed follow her mother’s advice. Unfortunately, her voice was so soft that it was easy for people to overlook what she was saying.
  3. A man with a weak, high-pitched voice told me about a difficult breakup he experienced some years ago. He suspected that the break-up, which resulted in a loss of confidence, contributed to his weaker voice.
  4. A female client in her late twenties had a “little girl” voice that made her sound like she was pre-teen. She disclosed that, as the youngest sibling in her family, she was spoiled as the "baby," and frequently got what she wanted by using her cute, adorable “little girl” voice. This underdeveloped voice worked so well in her youth that she never evolved out of it, even when, as an adult professional manager, she required a voice that was reflective of her maturity and authority.
  5. The male department manager of a high-tech company asked me to help change his monotone voice. Knowing his highly educated technical background, and listening to his cerebral communication style, it was clear that his education and training were mostly logically oriented, and that he needed to balance logic with emotional intelligence to enrich his vocal expressions.

As you can see from the above examples, voice often reflects family history, relational history, cultural norms, social expectations, as well as confidence versus insecurity.

If you desire to improve the sound of your voice, the good news is that in most instances, your speaking voice can be strengthened and/or refined with proper breathing, intonation, and vocal exercises.

If you desire to improve the sound of your voice, the good news is that in most instances, your speaking voice can be strengthened and/or refined with proper breathing, intonation, and vocal exercises*.

*In cases where there's vocal damage due to factors such as smoking, drinking, excessive use, or other types of injury, seek appropriate medical attention.

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Preston Ni is a Professor of Communication Studies, and the author of "How to Improve the Sound of Your Speaking Voice". For information on voice coaching, write to commsuccess@nipreston.com.

© 2016 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.