One of the most powerful vocal indicators that can sabotage our perceived credibility is when we speak using an upward inflection at the end of our sentences.
This is also referred to as upspeak, uptalk or upward pitch. Essentially, whenever pausing, the person speaking sounds like they’re asking a question. I believe we learn this unconsciously, indicating to others “I’m not a threat, you’re safe with me”. Unfortunately, it can have the opposite effect, giving the perception we are Prey which can actually trigger other people to become aggressive / predator towards us.
Over the 18 years of coaching people around the globe, I’ve encountered this speaking pattern in just about every culture. I’ve discovered men do it almost as much as women do, and the cultures I find most prone are Australian, Indian and Canadian. This pattern doesn’t surprise me as the stereotype in these cultures are that they are nice, easy-going, approachable people. The Californian “Valley Girl” is the painfully extreme version of someone who uses the upward inflection.
Here’s a brief explanation by a British counterpart of what I’m referring to:
This vocal indicator crosses gender, culture and even species. Let me tell you what I mean. When I was in Zurich a few years ago, I began a workshop which included a dog in the audience (don’t accuse me of not supporting diversity!). I demonstrated introducing myself in 3 ways. The 3rd time I used the upward inflection. The dog immediately started growling and barking at me! Both the audience and myself were equally surprised.
Here are the self coaching tools I teach my clients, to master the downward inflection
- Set the intent to practise daily for 3 to 5 minutes in a low stress situation
- Take a newspaper, book or article on the web and read each sentence pausing every few words. When you pause, pretend it’s the end of the sentence. What you’re doing is playing a trick on your brain by telling yourself that every time you pause it’s the end of the sentence, even though it’s not. Here’s an example:
One of the most powerful vocal indicators ↓ (PAUSE) that can sabotage ↓ (PAUSE) our perceived credibility ↓ (PAUSE) is when we speak ↓ (PAUSE) using an upward inflection ↓ (PAUSE) at the end of our sentences ↓ .
As you can see in this one sentence, we chopped it into 6 mini sentences. The point is not to speak like this all the time (otherwise you’ll sound a bit strange!). The point is simply to exaggerate the behaviour in order to eventually integrate the skill into your daily speech.
- If it’s a 2 syllable word, like party, go up on the first syllable and down on the second – “I’m going to the pa ↑ rty” ↓
- If it’s a 1 syllable word, you do up on the word before – “I’m going to the pool” ↓
- And for the advanced practice – “I’m going to the pool pa ↑ rty” ↓ (you can tell I’m resisting giving up summer!)
- If all else fails, embody your inner 007 and say with confidence – “my name is Bond ↓ (PAUSE) James Bond“ ↓ (practise replacing with your own name, otherwise people will think you have an identity issue!)
- For most of us it’s almost impossible to hear when we’re doing the upward inflection ourselves. I recommend you audio record yourself using a smartphone app, both during practise and in regular conversations. This will help you begin to make the distinction between when you are doing the upward inflection and the downward inflection.
If you’re not convinced about the risks of the upward inflection, here is a comedian explaining in a short entertaining video:
And if you’re still not convinced, here’s a further explanation from Forbes as to how the upward inflection can negatively impact your career.