You Do NOT Want Fry With That

A reporter from Marie Claire recently interviewed me on the subject of a University of Miami study published this past May. The study addressed the phenomenon known as “Vocal Fry” among young women seeking professional success. While you may not be familiar with the term, Vocal Fry, you have likely heard the sound. Here is an example:

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Vocal Fry is a subconscious behavior typically exhibited by young women who artificially lower the register of their voice and “fry” out, or make a growling sound, often at the end of thoughts. If you really want to geek out on this, here is the full study.

NBC’s take on the phenomenon:

While the use of this particular speaking style was anything but accidental in the auto commercial above, for most young women, the behavior is completely subconscious. In fact, many of my younger female clients seek out my support in part because they feel they are not being taken seriously at work, or are being overlooked for advancement – but don’t know why. They are told that they lack confidence, seem low-energy, careless, or appear to posses insufficient experience to justify promotion. In most cases, none of these assumptions is true (although a person’s confidence certainly dips upon hearing this feedback). What often turns out to be true is that they are unwitting perpetrators of vocal fry, sometimes as a generous side to a main course of “uptalk.”

By “uptalk,” I mean this:

When it comes to getting ahead and demonstrating leadership qualities, fry and uptalk make for a brutal combination.

Sociologists and behavioral scientists differ in their explanation of how this type of vocal pattern occurs and spreads within a society. They look at whether Kim Kardashian and Brittany Spears are to blame or if they simply echo and amplify the trend. Frankly, I don’t really care which came first. I think most clients (and their senior managers and HR leaders) agree that, regardless of its origins, this speech pattern is unnecessarily limiting and needs to go. But how?

“Mastery is the process of going from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to conscious competence, to unconscious competence.” The origin of this quote is disputable, but the truth of it is not. I like this saying so much it’s featured on the front page of my website. This truth is sort of the diet-and-exercise of behavior change. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s the approach that works best. What we start with is behavior that doesn’t work for our purposes. What we want is behavior that will support our goals. The first step is recognizing the behavior. Luckily, as the above quote indicates, this whole process has four steps, not 12!

The second step, conscious incompetence, tends to be the most difficult – we know what we’re doing and notice the behavior we want to change just after we’ve done it. Luckily, it gets easier from there – especially with some good techniques, coaching and self-reflection.

Is it fair that people may be judged and even dismissed based on mannerisms such as vocal inflection and tone when they are otherwise competent and capable? Probably not. Does it matter if it’s fair? Definitely not. The judgment of senior management is usually as subconscious as the behaviors they judge. Only we have an advantage: we have the ability to change and positively impact this impression! As a speech coach it is my mission to help those who are ready and willing to make those changes and thus remove obstacles to good, confident communication.

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