But speech has a closer proximity to our notion of identity than our ability (or inability) to do high jump. It’s unlikely that people could pick us out if they saw us in silhouette, trying to Fosbury Flop over a bar at 2.05 meters. But people can and do identify us by voice.
Our voice can often carry ideas about our background, education, social class and attitude. The impact of this is that we have an intuition that, if we’re changing our speech, we’re altering our sense of identity. It’s the proximity of speech to our perception of identity which is the tricky issue. This is because any attempt to alter our speech, even towards improvement, threatens one of our main manifestations of self.
So how are we to resolve this? Since studies have demonstrated that how you speak has a huge impact on the efficacy of the message – there is a lot to play for.
At least part of the solution here, is in how we think about our authenticity and identity.
How we speak is just a delivery mechanism for our intention. That is, when we communicate with someone, we are pursuing an outcome. It might be finding out how someone feels, letting an interviewer know how good we are or reminding a family member that we love them. What’s important, for authenticity, is our intention. Do we really care how they feel? Are we qualified for the job? Do we really love them?
If our intention is true, then it should be the north star for authenticity and also the basis for our identity. Who am I? I’m a father letting my daughter know that I love her.
My authenticity and identity are now tethered to my intention, not to my mode of speech, so my focus turns to choosing the best delivery mechanism for that intention. I might be a flippant person 95% of the time, but the best vehicle for my intention in this case may be quiet sincerity. And whether or not that quiet sincerity is actually felt by the other person can often be based on how they hear us communicate it through our voice.
In the interview situation, understanding the context and the recipient’s personality is going to give you the best chance of delivering on your intention.
Changing our patterns of speech becomes less problematic when our intention is authentic – when we believe in what we’re doing. If we believe in our intention, then it becomes the anchor for our identity and authenticity. We are then free to choose the most effective delivery mechanism without compromising our sense of identity.
And in a world in which small gains add up over time, it pays to start being as effective as possible, as soon as possible.