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Our Voices Are Our Signature, and Should Be Unique

unique fingerprint

All epic changes in society require one thing: a change in the collective mindset. Nearly thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are still awaiting that mindset to change in regards to the disabled, or differently abled, at work.

We wrote recently about guarding against otherness as we push for workplace diversity. It is our mission to push even harder to change the mindset of those working for diversity and inclusion at work; it still has too many silos. Many of the people working hard for workplace diversity are lost for words when we ask them to write for our blog. They rarely, if ever, have thought of those with speech-language (SLD) disorder as part of the diversity movement, so busy are they working on gender, race, or LGBTQ issues. That’s why we’re here, to give voice to those with SLD, but also, to change the mindset of the entire diversity and inclusion world.

You Do Not Need to Change

When we came across Jade Joddle, a Speaking Skills Specialist, a light bulb went off for us. In the video below, she tells a story of her ‘haters’ who criticize her frequent pauses. Because her business is about helping people change their speech, it was interesting to hear her speak about her thought process in dealing with the criticism she receives. Eventually, she made peace with the fact that her pauses are what makes her voice unique. She tells us that

There is no one else in the whole world that speaks just like you… your voice is like your signature.”

While reflecting on this we started thinking of the many unique voices in our world.

The President of Pause

People are often afraid of silence – they become uncomfortable because our very noisy society forces us to want to fill up quiet time. It may be why Jade Joddle’s haters comment on her pauses. That same sort of “stilted” speaking has also been a boon to comedians and impersonators for President Obama. Yet he is often lauded for his brilliant public speaking, and held up as an example. Speech specialists have waxed eloquent on how he uses pauses for powerful effect. But not everyone is a fan.

When I googled “President Obama pauses” I came across a discussion board where many thought his pauses belied something else, something negative. There were comments like:

He appears to have no confidence in what he is saying – as if he is trying to read lines from a memorized script. His level of speech is similar to a 13 – 16-year-old in my view.”

“Obama’s delivery is just not very good.”

“He said “er” 14 times in a 1:04 video extract. How is that eloquent? If that was a non-American, you would decry the person’s English!”

Of course, politics may very well bias someone’s interpretation of Obama’s unique speaking style, but this idea that a different way of speaking makes someone appear less intelligent isn’t that uncommon. It is one of the things members of the SLD community struggle against, especially in the job interview process. A pause, because they are searching for a word, are often interpreted as nervousness, standoffish, or less spontaneous, when really, it is just their own personal voice.

Very few people think President Obama is unintelligent, but we’ve also had years to “get to know him.” The very same thing happens when you spend time getting to know a person with speech-language disorder. But that requires the mindset to do just that. Unlike other disabilities that co-workers may become used to over time, speech-language disorders often cause co-workers to shut out an individual because they don’t they are so uncomfortable at the communication process.

Your Voice is Your Passport

There is a scene in the 1992 movie Sneakers where Robert Redford uses a tape recorder to trick a security mechanism that allows access based on a person’s unique voice pattern. The statement he must play into the system is:

“My Voice is My Passport.”

If we could change the mindset among all of us, and hiring managers and business leaders, in particular, it would be to see voices as unique signatures, passports, all with their own unique identity. Instead of pushing everyone to be more similar in the way they communicate, instead, what if we accepted and encouraged people to retain their own special uniqueness, and encouraged others to accept it as well. We need to learn to look past the sound and hear the message, even if it is delivered in a slower pattern than we’re used to.

Do you have a unique voice? We would love to hear from you about your unique vocal signature.


Photo credit: tnssofres 030420_1884_0077_x__s via photopin (license).

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Jill Willcox
Jill Willcox has worked in various human resources positions over the past 16 years including as HR Manager, Benefits Consultant at Aon Hewitt and as a Health Service Representative, working with people who had catastrophic work injuries. She is the mother of two children who are talented and contribute to society in a very meaningful way.
Jill Willcox

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One thought on “Our Voices Are Our Signature, and Should Be Unique”

  1. Allison Potocki says:

    Thanks for posting this! I love the line “you need to look past the sound and hear the message”.

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