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From Aggressive to Impactful: Embracing Directness without the Bite

How many of us have been told, when we’re trying to communicate a crucial detail or give a colleague feedback, that our communication styles are “aggressive” or “unnecessarily harsh”? Often, when giving direct or negative feedback, colleagues can easily interpret legitimate feedback for a harsh scolding, despite your intention. Frustrated, you retreat back to your office and wonder how you’ll be able to effectively communicate with your team without sounding like you’ve gone ‘from zero to one hundred’ out of ‘nowhere’.

At Peacock Voices, we hear this sort of feedback from clients all the time. For many, these moments of frustration all look eerily similar. Employee interactions aren’t meant to sound harsh, yet something about how we are being perceived leads to teammates feeling as though our tone is severe. Fear not - we’re here to help! Often, paying attention to how your words sound - and making a few subtle shifts, might shift this perception quickly. That’s where we come in!

In order to address how we can soften our vocal patterns to sound less aggressive but maintain the direct communication style many of us love, we need to begin with an understanding of what makes our speaking patterns sound harsh or combative. Here’s a list of some of these characteristics:

  • Monotone - here, we’re focusing on a lack of inflection or pitch variation. For those who may struggle with pitch inflection to begin with, take note of this one! Sometimes our slight shifts to eliminate monotone and add inflection don’t go far enough to show perceivable variance in pitch.

  • Volume - Here, a friendly reminder that, similar to silence, not all volume is made equal! We want to draw your attention to thinking about your volume directionally, versus just in terms of being loud or quiet. When thinking about directional volume, we want to encourage you to think about the physical space you are speaking in. A small office or conference room doesn’t require the same volume as a board room with 30 individuals, or an auditorium holding 100 or more people. Don’t project for a space bigger (or smaller) than the one you’re in!

  • Silence - Here, we’re most concerned about the silences between words. This choppy speech pattern might leave your audience or colleagues feeling scolded.

  • Resonance - As we explore resonance, a reminder that a really pointed and harsh resonance comes off as exactly that…pointed and harsh!

  • Articulation - We love strong consonants in the English language, but using overly strong consonants all time may be a contributing factor in your speech pattern sounding aggressive.

A megaphone on a light green background with a flower bouquet coming out the end

Now that we know what vocal attributes contribute to an aggressive speech pattern, let's flip that around and help you find a voice that allows you to communicate directly, while creating an encouraging, collaborative and fun work environment. See how we aim to re-think the above vocal characteristics in a more positive light:

  • Inflection - We want to encourage inflection all day every day! Consistently using inflection will help your speech pattern become more engaging and charismatic. As long as you stay inside your comfort zone, this can live comfortably in alignment with your authentic speech pattern.

  • Volume - In general, not being too loud (significantly louder than the other voices in the room) is a good rule of thumb. We want to encourage volume that isn’t directional and instead uses your body's internal, natural speaker system.

  • Silence -When you are aiming for a charismatic and engaging speech pattern, it’s a good rule to aim for continuous sound without pauses between words, unless those silences serve a specific purpose.

  • Resonance - Having a balanced and rich resonance allows for not only the cut and presence of a strong, engaging voice, it will allow more warmth in your sound that makes listeners want to listen to your sound.

  • Articulation - As we said above, we love consonants in the English language - they are how we show expression! That said, playing with how short/long, strong/soft your consonants are and a focus on diversifying your articulation will help the most important words stick out.

By beginning to reframe how we’re thinking about our inflection, volume, silences, resonance and articulation, we can begin to shift our perceived tone from ‘aggressive’ to ‘impactful’. Not only will this aid in bolstering your Executive Presence in the eyes of your leadership team, you’ll be able to shift the narrative around how your colleagues and teammates perceive your leadership style. Before you know it, you’ll not only have transformed how people hear you lead, you’ll have aided in establishing a better workplace culture!

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