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People Judge Your Intelligence Based on the Tone of Your Voice and How Fast You Speak

People Judge Your Intelligence Based on the Tone of Your Voice and How Fast You Speak

Do you want people to think you are intelligent? Has someone ever told you “You’re much smarter than you look.”?

No doubt it can sting to be perceived as less intelligent, particularly when you never had a chance to showcase your intellect in the first place! And while this might be a social inconvenience, it can be a huge setback when it comes to your career.

If you walk into a job interview and the first impression the interviewer has of you is ‘not very intelligent’, what are the chances of you getting that job? Enough said.

It’s Your Voice That Matters Most

But what determines whether or not someone perceives you as intelligent at first glance? If you ask a person off the street, they would likely highlight looks and conversational skills as the main factors. But science shows otherwise.

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In a study [1] published in the Journal of Psychological Science, MBA students from the University of Chicago were videotaped giving pitches on why they should be hired. Prospective employers and professional recruiters were then given three options: viewing the video, listening to the audio, or reading a transcript.

Here’s what the study concluded:

“These evaluators rated a candidate as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard a pitch rather than read it and, as a result, had a more favorable impression of the candidate and were more interested in hiring the candidate. Adding voice to written pitches, by having trained actors or untrained adults read them, produced the same results. Adding visual cues to audio pitches did not alter evaluations of the candidates. For conveying one’s intellect, it is important that one’s voice, quite literally, be heard.”

To summarize, when it comes to first impressions on intelligence, looks don’t matter; your voice does.

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The reason behind this finding is attributed [2] to human evolution; our voices are tools that have been carefully honed for communication. In text, paralinguistic cues that provide critical information about a speaker’s intelligence and thoughtfulness are lost.

3 Keys To Making a Good First Impression

Now that you know how important your voice is in making a good first impression, let’s take a look at the keys in making a good first impression.

Use a lower pitch and vocal inflection.

People associate a high pitched tone with nervousness or childishness. You want to do the opposite; deliberately lower your vocal pitch. This projects both confidence and maturity.

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You also want to avoid the use of ‘uptalk’, which is a rising vocal inflection at the end of your sentences. Uptalk, combined with a high pitched tone will only amplify people’s perception of you as nervous or childish. Further, people who use uptalk are perceived as being less knowledgeable; regardless of actual content.

Be careful of using too much downward vocal inflection or ‘downtalk’, however. Overuse of this can make you come across as rude or confrontational.

Avoid Filler Words

Filler words, sometimes called vocal crutches, are words such as “ah”, “um”, “like”, “so”, “you know” and other similar phrases. And while everybody uses filler words, overusing them makes you appear to lack confidence and competence.

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To avoid using filler words, you must first be aware of your use of them. Communications expert Lisa B. Marshall suggests [3] people record themselves in conversations and listen to the recordings five minutes a day for two weeks.

It is better to substitute silence for these fillers; verbal pauses, even when overused, only serve to increase a speaker’s credibility.

Another option is to join your local Toastmasters club; every meeting has a designated ‘Ah Counter’ [4] whose job it is to record each speaker’s vocal crutches.

Speak Faster

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Not too fast, of course, or they won’t understand a word you’re saying. Nevertheless, faster speakers are perceived to be more confident, according to a study conducted at Brigham Young University.

Lisa also notes that the ideal speaking rate [5] is about 150 words per minute, which is also the recommended speed for audio books. Avoiding the use of filler words will naturally quicken your speech but you can also practice faster speech through a few reading drills.

  • Practice reading a text out loud at varying speeds: Start by reading it a normal speed, then try to slowly increase the speed on each subsequent repetition. Read it backwards for extra challenge so you won’t be pausing o take extra time to think about what you are saying out loud.
  • Use tongue twisters: Not just for children, and great for warming up before a presentation as well. If you have trouble enunciating words beginning with a certain alphabet, find tongue twisters starting with said alphabet. For instance, if you have trouble pronouncing words beginning with the letter ‘P’ then go with the classic “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers/ A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked/ If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers/ Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”
  • Insert words in a passage when reading out loud: Add in arbitrary prepositions such as ‘and’ or ‘the’ when reading a passage out loud. This will force you to read without thinking what it means. Further, it will also give your speech a certain rhyme and diction that translates well to other fast speaking situations. Here’s an example: the phrase “the fox jumped over the fence” can become “the and fox and jumped the over and the and fence”

Reference

[1] Sage Journals: The Sound of Intellect
[2] Harvard Business Review: The Science of Sounding Smart
[3] The New York Times: So, Um, How Do You, Like, Stop Using Filler Words?
[4] Toastmasters International: Ah-counter
[5] Lisamarshall.com: How Fast Do I Speak?

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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