Read an Excerpt
7 Minutes a Day to Communication Mastery
By ARTHUR SAMUEL JOSEPH
McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Arthur Samuel Joseph
All rights reserved.
COMMUNICATION MASTERY: THE JOURNEY BEGINS
The tones of human voices are mightier than strings and brass to move the soul ... —Friedrich Klopstock
Voice Is Power—When I Own My Voice, I Own My Power
Voice has changed the world from the beginning of time. Imagine what the Prophet Abraham must have sounded like to compel others to follow him across the desert. In the last century BC, it was understood that comprehensive training was necessary to develop great communicators. There was a Roman system of oratory that taught public speakers about ideas, lines of argument, structure, organization, diction, style, physical delivery, and memory. Speeches could last for up to four hours and, as they were always spoken, never read, they were memorized. Quoting directly from the journal of the greatest Roman orator of the time, Marcus Tullius Cicero:
A leading speaker will vary and modulate his voice, raising and lowering it and deploying the full scale of tones. He will avoid extravagant gestures and stand impressively erect. He will not pace about and, when he does so, not for any distance. He should not dart forward, except in moderation with strict control. There should be no effeminate bending of the neck or twiddling of his fingers or beating out the rhythm of his cadences on his knuckles. He should control himself by the way he holds and moves his entire body. He should extend his arm at moments of high dispute, and lower it during calmer passages. Once he has made sure he does not have a stupid expression on his face and/or a grimace, he should control his eyes with great care for, as the face is the image of the soul, the eyes are its translators.
Moving forward in time, imagine hearing the actual tonal quality of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Mohammad's sixth-century speeches that led to a movement and the creation of a new religion, or the voice of the Buddha communicating his truths.
Leap ahead to the twentieth century: The most reprehensible example of vocal power was Adolf Hitler. His voice, delivery, body language, and presence were diabolically aligned in such a way that they virtually usurped a people's will. At the same time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill successfully kept the free world together through the power of their voices via radio and public addresses. There was the gentle but commanding voice of Mahatma Gandhi helping unite his nation. In the second half of the twentieth century, other voices and their impactful communication style reverberate: In November 1954 on the television show See It Now, Edward R. Murrow confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy in an interview that changed the political course of America. In 1963, Walter Cronkite's tearful statement to the world reported the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. stood before tens of thousands who listened to him proclaim "I Have a Dream" from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Fidel Castro, Mao Tse Tung, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Aung San Suu Kyi are a handful of leaders who personify and integrate in their very essence the character of the individual, for right or wrong, for good or evil.
A handful of business leaders that come to mind include Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Meg Whitman, Marissa Mayer, and Sheryl Sandberg whose drive, passion, belief system, and commitment are not simply communicated in their rhetoric, but embodied in the tones of their voices, through their body language, in the very sinews of who they are. It may seem intangible but, frankly, it is not. The examples I have illustrated run the gamut. There are clearly profound leaders worth emulating, but I would be remiss if I did not also identify despotic world leaders who have won over the masses through their communication styles, as well as successful business leaders who, albeit, successful corporate executives, may be abusive communicators in the office. Voice is power; it does not discriminate. It is how we wield this power that makes the difference. There is a vibrational quality, an energetic essence that can force a listener to follow the speaker's lead no matter what. This phenomenon is not illusory but foundational. In its most primal essence, communication is vibration. This communication is subliminally conveyed through pitch, timbre, volume, energy, willpower, conviction—these are but a few of the elements that compel us to listen. Whose voices today, whether they be an acclaimed world leader, a despot, a business leader, a social or community activist, or a media icon, will resonate through time—and are we even listening?
When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, we began losing the art of letter writing. With the advent of highspeed technology, we have now begun to lose the art of public discourse. In the twenty-first century, we are in the age of what I call "fingers and thumbs." The Internet is our preferred mode of communication. We may actually spend more time typing our words than speaking them. Beyond this, the Internet creates anonymity. We do not have to physically engage or confront one another. We don't have to physically show up, be in the room in front of people—nobody sees or hears our voices—they only see our words. Most of us have probably been in situations at a gathering or at work where people in the same room are e-mailing, texting, and instant messaging one another rather than going over, making eye contact, and speaking. Because we tend to type fast, we also speak quickly with one another when we converse. When we type, we tend to convey data in sound bites rather than tell a story and communicate with complete and more complex thoughts. This mode of communication permeates our daily interactions whether trivial or, far more important, when we need to be tactical and deliver impactful messages. Subliminally or consciously, we are less comfortable doing so.
In the world of Internet communication, misspellings, typos, and poor punctuation are acceptable and have become the norm. How many e-mails and texts that we send or receive daily have errors in them? By extension, those typos become verbal typos in our conversation—what I call white noise such as "ums" and "uhs." This "normal" communication is not strategic. We are definitely not conscious or aware—we just speak. We have become inured in daily conversation and settle for being average. But perception is reality. When we are speaking, we are also personally being evaluated—subliminally or intentionally. In our personal lives, this is one thing; in politics, simplistic conversation—appearing average—becomes far more significant and the consequences potentially monumental. We no longer expect leaders to be inspiring. There's a tendency to want them to speak more like us, where malapropisms and syntactical errors are acceptable.
In addition, in studies attributed to Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, beginning in the 1970s a theory was extrapolated as either the 7-38-55 Rule or the 8-37-55 Rule—that in all verbal communication, only 7 or 8 percent may be language-based or derived from the words themselves. This means that perhaps only 7 or 8 percent of everything we say is retained by our listener's unconscious mind.
An opinion is created in three seconds. Do you have difficulty verbally conveying an idea at all, let alone succinctly and strategically in every business situation from a job interview to a keynote speech, from answering the telephone to leading a board meeting? Whether it's running out of breath or gasping for air; feeling self-conscious; speaking too rapidly or with inordinate tongue/jaw or neck and shoulder tension; fidgeting with your fingers; sitting in a meeting jiggling your leg up and down; bustling down a hallway; speaking too high or too breathy; stammering; filling space with "ums" and "uhs" for fear that if you take a moment, you will be interrupted—these are only a few examples of how in everyday conversation we may reveal aspects of ourselves that we do not want anyone to see or know about.
When I speak at business schools, one of the first things I say is, "In the business world, people do not say to an individual, 'Your voice is tense or your voice is anxious.'" They may, however, say, "You are tense or you are anxious," or, frankly and more likely, not say anything at all. Rather, they will draw their own conclusions—right or wrong. How much would they retain from your presentation?
In a March 2012 Wall Street Journal interview, one of the tips I offered was that a meeting begins before you walk into the room and how you walk into the room matters. Do you convey confidence by, among other things, your physical presence and your nonverbal communication? In communication, it is not simply what we say but how we say it.
Almost a century ago, the American poet Robert Frost wrote: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood ..." From a communication perspective, global society is in those woods right now—which fork in the road will we take? The one that takes us down the path of mediocrity, ultimately dissolving into fractious societies where the loudest voice, even if it is that of a demagogue, is the norm—where people only carp, shout at one another, do not listen or hear. Or, do we take the other fork in the road, the one less traveled by—the one that requires us to communicate with one another honorably, commandingly, authentically, respectfully—listening to our own intrinsic inner voice and deliberately integrating it into our spoken voice. There is a choice to be made. The time is now. If we do not make it, we abdicate our responsibility to ourselves and thus to our future.
The path I am clearly advocating is Communication Mastery. As we continue the journey, just like standing at the fork in the yellow wood, it is a choice. We ultimately take responsibility. We learn how to communicate, claim our consummate vocal identity, and consistently allow the same person to show up everywhere.
Voice Is Power—Creating Our Own History
Voice Is Power. This statement has been expressed for millennia. And, as in most things to do with voice or communication, we believe we have a clear understanding of what this means. One interpretation implies vocal strength, as in, he or she has a loud voice. Another may imply vocal stamina, "Christine can speak for hours at our corporate events, and her voice never seems to tire." Or, "Jerry conveys strong leadership authority."
However, when speaking about voice or communication, what else is implied in the statement, "Voice is power"—character traits, for example? "Hector always seems so honest when he speaks with our customers." "Louise is a great sales associate. She is our most successful telemarketer. Our client surveys always reflect how trustworthy she seems over the phone when speaking." What other positive attributes come to mind? Caring, thoughtful, earnest, respectful, secure, authentic, friendly, happy, and so forth.
Or, the antithesis might be the case. "Charlotte is very aggressive with subordinates. Her staff doesn't feel she respects them and, because of this, productivity in her division is negatively impacted." "At the office, Richard appears so arrogant that colleagues are having trouble collaborating with him." Yet, a different type of example, "John seems so anxious when he speaks with everyone—his peers or his bosses. He is bright, but his seeming lack of confidence holds him back." Other negative attributes: insensitive, immature, disengaged, territorial, not trustworthy, self-serving, inauthentic, and so forth.
Voice is power. Vocal Awareness interprets this statement from a very specific perspective. First, literally—it means what it says. But, second, from a far more complex, comprehensive, depthful, insightful, yet clear and concise understanding, this interpretation understands that Voice reflects all of who we are intrapersonally—our inner Voice—our dreams, aspirations, fears, doubts, our very spiritual/emotional/intellectual essence. The inner Voice is what is known in Vocal Awareness as the Deeper Self. It is who we are. It is our innate nature. It is our behavioral DNA imprint combined with our social imprint. It is connected to our protected life in the womb floating securely in amniotic fluid, and influenced by our life outside the instant we are thrust into our new external environment.
A parent lovingly coos in our ear, I love you, while at the same time caressing us or holding us in their nurturing embrace—bedtime stories, singing, caring parents, loving siblings, teachers, doting grandparents—the panoply of the idyllic Golden Book version of childhood round out the picture. Through this idealized portrait emerges the idealized Self—Da Vinci's term is Vitruvian man—perfection. In this storybook version, we all have stellar self-esteem and abundant self-confidence. We are respectful and caring in our daily discourse and interactions, and the like. This scenario is so not true that it is insidious and harmful to believe in it. It is not possible to achieve, let alone sustain, perfection. Then, the other question is whose interpretation of perfection is it? If it is mine, what if yours is different—who is right?
A second reality is far harsher—normal? Parents, even if you are fortunate enough to come from a two-parent family, are not necessarily enlightened parents. Even though they may love you, they don't always show it. They may raise their voices and shout at you or each other. As an infant when you are in church, synagogue, temple, or mosque naturally expressing your Self, spontaneously sharing your instinctive "ga-ga" and "goo-goo," these may be immediately followed by "shh" from a loved one. Clearly this shushing may not be meant as a rebuke or designed to censor our natural expression. Rather, it may be meant to comfort. However, this global verbal behavior is part of our social DNA passed down from generation to generation. It is what we do and it does stifle us. It may at some level be meant to comfort but it also criticizes.
As infants and toddlers, part of our Self-discovery process is through our voice. We are developing ourselves, exploring, and expanding. Then an adult censors us, asks us to conform. Most of the time, this is not maliciously censoring a child, but censor we do. Other scenarios beyond this are part of our daily reality as we grow. As the journey continues, we may be occasionally teased and taunted by other children. Teachers can threaten or intimidate, and, of course, many other factors influence our development.
We are not our behaviors.
Until we reach adulthood and we believe we have chosen to communicate as we do, to represent ourselves as we do. Whereas, in point of fact, we abdicated before the journey actually began. We unconsciously gave over control of ourselves and lost our autonomy—our sense of sovereignty. In addition, nowhere along the way, did we necessarily stop and determine, this is how I want to be known. Rarely do we stop along the way and say to anyone, "No longer will you have dominion over me."
Teaching discipline and respect are cornerstones of any civilized society. Silence can be golden. In a few paragraphs, I am painting with a broad brush stroke to make a point we don't often think about—the impact that voice and body language in all their manifestations—from parents to children, teachers to students, peer to peer, us to ourselves—frame who we become. How we speak and how we interact with one another does matter. Social imprinting is part of the human condition. But there comes a point when we recognize that we actually have a choice as to how we want to be known—and the first step in putting the puzzle pieces together is to ask ourselves, How do I want to be known to my Self?
The goal is not necessarily to do it better, but to do it more mindfully. Through awareness we create the opportunity to make informed choices. If we are not aware of our circumstances, we cannot change or enhance the situation in any way. Think about it. How many times a day do you let your behavior run you rather than you run your behavior? Whether in business or social settings, how often do you doubt yourself, seek approval, are afraid to claim an idea? Do you worry about what others might think; are you concerned about sounding too arrogant? Where did this lack of confidence and identity challenge begin? Metaphorically speaking, it began with "shh" and was then perpetuated in many other ways explicitly or implicitly. Through this Work, you will recognize that every single thing in life revolves around two things—to choose or not to choose. Even in abdication we make a choice by walking away. In Vocal Awareness, the goal is to make empowered choices. This is not arrogant, egotistical, inappropriately aggressive, or destructive in any way. It is primal. It is respectful of Self. Through informed and conscientious choice, we are less fragile, afraid, or inhibited, and therefore, our daily interactions are more congruent and less territorial. Communication Mastery offers a very distinct choice that enables us to create new patterns—informed, practiced, courageous, conscious choices.
Excerpted from VOCAL LEADERSHIP by ARTHUR SAMUEL JOSEPH. Copyright © 2014 Arthur Samuel Joseph. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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