Women executives unlearning uptalk

October 01, 2014

Women executives unlearning uptalk

Yesterday I had to laugh. I can not recall exactly where I read it now but it was about how women interested in the corner suite have to learn how not to uptalk or upspeak.  Frankly, I had not heard of these terms.  However, I did a search to find an apt definition for this post and I found this description in an article that appeared in Fortune last year on how to be an irresistible leader. Fortune was talking about a new book that they say is required reading at Harvard Business School

“Naturally for a couple of communications coaches, the authors offer remedies for habits of speech that undermine people’s influence at work. One of these is “uptalk,” that annoying Valley-girl intonation that makes every sentence turn up at the end like a question. It’s a verbal tic that inadvertently signals “submissive approval seeking” and “creates the impression the speaker is uncertain about things that should not be in doubt” — neither of which conveys strength (or warmth either, for that matter).”

So here is why this all made me laugh. Years ago (many) when I wrote my dissertation, my topic was whether fathers used different communications styles when talking to their 2 year old sons and daughters. My dissertation in general was on the importance of fathers in children’s lives and how they influence their early growth and development. One of the findings from my research was how fathers did speak differently to girls and used “upspeak” significantly more often than with their sons. Little did I know how detrimental it would be to women getting on those power lists! I am sure someone out there will now infer here that there has been an ongoing conspiracy among dads to keep their daughters lower on the career ladder to save their own jobs but I hope not. I just thought it was worthwhile to mention that upspeak-training starts pre-kindergarten.

I think that fathers may be more conversational, back and forth, and engaging in their dialogue with their daughters when they are young. With the sons, the fathers held back more and let their sons do their jobs (which consisted of building things). With daughters, dads joined in on the play more often and engaged in uptalk. 

Little did I realize that this style of communications would have to be undone. 

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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