Don’t Raise Your Voice

By Lauren Carter

I hope you’ve been having a lovely week so far. Today I want to share with you why raising your voice doesn’t solve any problems. Okay, raising your voice works when you’re in a loud environment and someone can’t hear you, but when someone can’t understand you, it’s a completely different story.

Why you need to stop raising your voice

When someone tells you they don’t understand you, 99% of the time it means they can’t comprehend the words you’re saying. It doesn’t mean they can’t hear you.

In English, we can often think that “I don’t understand you” means “I can’t hear you”, however this is generally not the case. On the other hand, Mandarin has this really cool grammatical feature that helps you make a distinction between the two. If you are talking with someone and you don’t understand, you can say 听不懂 (tīng bù dǒng), which can be parsed into English as “hear not understand” or “I can hear you, but I can’t understand you”. You can also say 听不到 (tīng bù dào), which can be parsed into English as “hear not complete” or “I can’t hear you”. This is a really useful distinction when it comes to understanding the exact meaning someone is trying to convey.

Now, imagine you’re at a shop and you need help finding something. You ask a worker in the store where to find the item and they give you this long list of instructions and use words you don’t understand to explain where it is. You tell them you don’t understand, so they say exactly the same words but raise their voice and change the stress and intonation of their words.

And what happens?

  • You feel frustrated because you feel like the worker is being condescending towards you.
  • The worker feels frustrated because they think you’re an idiot who can’t understand anything.
  • But most importantly, you’re still standing there not knowing where to go to find the item you need.

So, in summary you’re frustrated, the worker’s frustrated, AND you’ve still got the same problem as before.

This may sound like a ridiculous situation if you’re a native English speaker who doesn’t speak any other languages, but I see this happen all the time to non-native English speakers with low English literacy.

This situation occurs simply because the worker hasn’t been taught how to communicate effectively or how their communication choices affect someone’s ability to understand. You may have found yourself in the worker’s shoes before, but I’m here to help you get a new pair of shoes! 😉

How to stop raising your voice

Okay, so maybe you’ve just read the heading and are thinking to yourself “Duh, Lauren! If I want to stop raising my voice then I just stop doing it. It’s that simple”. And that’s great if you can just click your fingers and stop doing something you’ve done for your whole life. But it may not be so simple or straightforward for everyone.

Through my experience over the last few years learning to create change and daily habits in my life, I’ve learned that it’s easier to replace habits or behaviours with another one. The behaviour of raising our voices when someone says they don’t understand us is really just a habit. It’s something we’ve done over and over again, so now it has become second nature to us.

When we want to break a habit, we don’t just stop doing it. Instead, we replace the behaviour with something more aligned to the outcomes we want to achieve. For example, when I decided I wanted to start going to bed earlier so I didn’t feel like death every morning, I didn’t just flick a magic switch and start going to bed earlier. Instead, I took the behaviour of mindlessly scrolling on my phone for hours and replaced it with mindfully reading a paper back book before bed.

So, we can apply this same method to raising our voice. We’ve established that raising our voice when someone says they don’t understand something doesn’t achieve any positive outcomes. But what would help us achieve a more positive outcome? Here are a few strategies you can use instead of raising your voice:

  • Change the words you use
  • Use simpler grammar
  • Use shorter sentences
  • Give examples to help explain a situation or word
  • Use pronouns like you, I, me, he, she, and they to personalise an explanation

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will help you get started.

This week’s challenge

So my friend, my challenge for you this week is to recognise when you raise your voice. Do you only raise your voice when a loud truck drives past you? Or do you raise your voice when someone tells you they don’t understand you? If you chose the second option, I’d urge you to have a look at whether you want to continue with that habit or not.

If you decide you want to change this habit and improve your communication skills, practice using the five strategies above when you find yourself with the urge to raise your voice when someone says they don’t understand you.

Remember not to get frustrated at yourself if you find it hard to do this at first. You’re trying to break a habit that you’ve developed over and done for your whole life. Of course you’ll make mistakes and revert back to what you have previously done. That’s completely natural and okay. Just do your best and be compassionate to your clients and yourself.

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