35 years ago, an acquaintance of mine—who was an English teacher—uttered this memorable statement during a dinner in Toronto: “When you open your mouth, your mind is on parade.” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation because I was immediately rendered so self-conscious that I felt like clamping my hand over my mouth. This feeling persisted for weeks after our dinner.
To this day, I routinely share the quote with people in my workshops because it had such a powerful effect on me.
At that time, and until just now, I thought my acquaintance meant that the words you speak reveal how your mind works. While that’s true, it’s not the only thing that’s being revealed. When your tone doesn’t match your words, what’s also revealed is something my voice coach calls an under voice (or occasionally undertone).
An under voice can happen when there is a discrepancy between your thoughts and feelings and the words you are using. Let’s use a job interview as an example. You go into that interview anxiously thinking, “I really need this job. I’m getting further and further behind on my bills and I’ve got to start working asap.” In spite of the confident words that may come out of your mouth, there’s a gap between your thoughts and feelings and the words you’re using.
This can leave the listener uneasy. They may not know what they’re reacting to—and you may not be aware of it yourself—but your under voice creates a blockage between you and the listener. That blockage can interfere with your success in just about any communication situation.
Here’s another example: You're having a meeting with one of your staff to talk about a performance issue. You start the conversation on a positive note, with open and encouraging words and tone. But just as you bring up the main topic, the person starts justifying their performance. That prompts you to think, “Here we go again. Every time I bring something up he makes excuses and gets defensive.” You’ve just ventured into the territory of the under voice. Chances are, no matter how professional your words remain, the person will pick up the discrepancy between words and thoughts and react to that.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve found a simple technique to eliminate the under voice. But really, I’m just a novice when it comes to paying attention to voice. What I can say, is that just a little bit of feedback from my coach prompted me to explore a formerly hidden territory of thinking that—unbeknownst to me—was driving a lot of my behavior. And resulting in an under voice.
But enough soul searching! What do you do in the moment to ace a job interview or other important communication? Walking into the meeting, you’re nervous, hesitant, not feeling totally confident. You want to come across as polished, professional, in command of yourself.
Since thoughts link to feelings, the best suggestion I can offer right now is to stop thinking so much. And since telling someone to stop thinking is pretty useless, try doing this instead:
Focus on the present moment, stay engaged and connected with the person or people right in front of you. Do what you need to do to remove the blockage and put your full attention on your listeners.
Any other thoughts about the how to communicate your best self? Please leave your ideas in the comments box. Meanwhile, take a look at another great video by Tracy Goodwin on under voice.
(If anyone clicked on links in my last post and they didn't work, my apologies. They should be live now.)