Know what I mean?

A verbal tic. Or is it something more? Also, 7 other things worth your time, and none of them are political.

Can I ask you to consider something? It’s about a common verbal habit or tic.

Some people say that people who do this lack confidence. They say they're opening the door to not be taken seriously.

But maybe people who react like this are wrong? At the very least, they're missing an opportunity.

The speaking habit is what's known as “high rising terminal.” It has other names too, like “uptalk,” “rising inflection,” or “high rising intonation.”

It's the phenomenon that results in people speaking declarative sentences with a rising pitch that is more commonly applied to asking a question. Sometimes, they wind up dividing declarative sentences into shorter phrases, each with its own rising pitch.

A person who does not speak with a high rising intonation might offer the following suggestion:

“Looking at all the variables, and the uncertainty in the world right now, I think we should reach out to existing customers so we know where we stand. At the same time, we can figure out which future opportunities to double down on, and which to delay pursuing.”

A person whose speaking style tends toward uptalk might sound a bit more like this:

“Looking at all the variables? And the uncertainty in the world right now? I think we should reach out to existing customers. So we know where we stand? At the same time, we can figure out which future opportunities to double down on. And which to delay pursuing?”

Those are intentionally generic examples, of course.

Some studies suggest women are more likely to speak with this kind of uptalk in their voices, but most of those studies are quite a few years old now. Other studies suggest it's more of a generational thing.

Anyway, I used to fall in with the people who considered this a bad habit.

But as I've grown older and more experienced—and as I've worked with colleagues who have this vocal tendency, but who are neither lacking in confidence, nor less competent than their peers—I've realized something important.

Rather than suggesting lack of confidence, people who naturally speak in this style might instead be extraordinarily tuned in with their audiences—focusing on the effects their words actually have on others, as opposed to what they intend to say.

And that instinct happens to be a key component of emotional intelligence.

So, let’s go back to the generic example above, in which the speaker acknowledges a dynamic situation and proposes a strategic course of action.

In light of this idea of focusing on how the words land on the listener, the high rising terminal, which sounds like a string of questions, makes a bit more sense. They signal things like:

  • “Are you with me?”

  • “Are my words reaching you?”

  • “You’re keeping in mind the concepts I’m explaining, right?”

When the phrases “looking at all the variables,” and “the uncertainty in the world right now,” end with an uptick, the implied message is (or might be): “Do you understand that the course of action I'm about to suggest is informed by some big changes in the world?”

And when the speaker proposes reaching out to existing customers to find out where we stand (?), and figuring out which opportunities to delay (?), with a high rising intonation, I'm reminded of the Jeff Bezos “disagree and commit” formulation for making tough decisions.

Hard decisions will always have multiple, reasonable solutions, so deciding is less about reaching consensus than encouraging commitment.

In this example, would it be a good idea to focus on existing customers? It's a hypothetical, so who knows?

But it's probably not a 100 percent right-or-wrong decision. Thus, the speaker's goal here is not just to advocate for an outcome, but to get buy-in from others.

It's also likely he or she doesn't have the practical power to insist simply: “Here's what we're going to do,” even if that were more appealing.

Instead: “I know there's another argument, but I think we should double down on existing customers.” Are you with me? Will you do this? Can I get your support?

This is a lot to pack into an implied question mark, I know. I don’t even think it’s intentional, as much as instinctive. But it's also highly emotionally intelligent.

So what do you think? Do you buy the argument?

And do you think that people who dismiss others who talk like this, might be missing out on some smart contributions?

7 other things worth your time

The donkey and elephant in the room so to speak, are that the first presidential debate was last night. I’m writing this beforehand, so I don’t know what the big moments were. Should I ask who you think won, in the comments? Or is that just asking for trouble?

  • My colleague at Inc., Marcel Schwantes, wrote a massively popular article about Warren Buffett, and the life choices he apparently says separate “doers from dreamers.” (Inc.)

  • Nice story, but with an asterisk: A Utah family asks for the same 89-year-old delivery guy every time they order a pizza. They’ve been posting videos of their interactions to TikTok, and fans chipped in to give him a $12,000 tip. The asterisk, of course, is for what it says that at age 89, the delivery guy still has to deliver pizzas to stay afloat. (CNN)

  • Another nice story today, as I feel like we need them: Firefighters at a station in Florida recently showed up to work and realized every single position for the day was filled by a female firefighter. Their group photo went viral. (KATU)

  • Not creepy at all, Amazon has a new technology that will let you pay for things with your palm. “Amazon said the images are encrypted and stored securely in the cloud, and it also argued that palms are more private than other forms of biometric identification, since you can’t determine someone’s identity just by looking at their palm.” (TechCrunch)

  • You know those dual flush toilets? A new study from the UK says they actually waste more water than the ones that just flush the same amount no matter what. (The Guardian)

  • The mayor of a small town in Romania, 3,000 people, passed away from complications due to Covid-19 10 days before he would have stood for reelection. As a final tribute, townspeople got together and reelected him anyway. (AP)

  • Brilliant: Jet-pack paramedic. I don’t know what things will be like in big cities post-Covid, but I will never forget walking up 5th Avenue in NYC a few years ago during rush hour, and keeping pace on foot with an ambulance that was caught in city traffic. Maybe this could go toward solving that. (BBC)

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I wrote about this verbal tic for Inc., and I’ve been curious if Understandably’s audience would react similarly. Anyway, if you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for the daily email newsletter, with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. You can also just send an email to And now, you can also get it by text at (718) 866-1753.

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