Folks, we’ll have two more days of “low power mode” so we can be in a position to start 2023 off right.
Today’s feature article is a reexamination of something I ran about 2.5 years ago (when this newsletter was 4% of the size it is now!). But, it’s also one that people ask me about from time to time, and that I’ve only become more certain about. Let me know what you think in the comments!
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: “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?
Thanks for reading. Low power mode ends Monday. Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash. I wrote about some of this before on Inc.com.
The high intonation might be acceptable if you are early in the planning stage and still considering ideas from your staff. However, if this is something that upper management has decided and is communicating to subordinates then a declarative statement is best.
I find this phenom not uncommom when I call customer service and the respresentative is a woman and Southern. I always feel like they are courteous and so want to help me. And the outcome is very satisfactory.