“Dang, Mom… you have a ‘work voice’!”
I like to think of myself as pretty authentic at work. I don’t hide my tattoos, I don’t hide my ~thoughts~ (this isn’t always a bonus, by the way…) and I think I usually bring my “full self” into my professional pursuits.
So I was caught off-guard when my 21 yr old made this observation, quickly endorsed by her 19 yr old sibling.
I have teased my kids for a while now about “The Retail Laugh.” If you’ve ever worked retail, you _know_ what I’m talking about. That annoying customer says something absurd and you “laugh”, and anyone who knows you is 100% sure that you’re faking it… because you are. (If you have never worked retail, ignore this — nothing to see here — all interactions with retail staff are ALWAYS 100% real… )
So I was curious what they meant when they said I had a “work voice”. They thought about it, and then we got into a rousing conversation about how I speak slower, lower my pitch, pause in ways that feel ~weird~ to them. Apparently, I also laugh less (this may come as a surprise to those of you who KNOW me professionally… I laugh a LOT more than most people I know, even in work settings), and I “dumb down” my word choices.
Huh. I sat with this for a few days, and I guess it’s all true — but I don’t think it’s all BAD. I used to get hammered (justifiably so) for speaking too fast (which also sometimes triggered my stuttering), using “big words”, and “not being serious enough about your work.” I guess over time, I got tired of getting dinged for these things — or worse, getting left out of conversations because I wasn’t seen as an effective communicator.
I don’t think I’m any less ~me~ when I speak slower with my colleagues than I do with my kids. I mean, yes. My spouse even remarks that it sounds like we’re speaking a foreign language when we get going, and that’s fine when it’s just us… not so fine if it’s a client or a colleague who doesn’t “speak the language”.
I actually don’t think I necessarily “dumb down” my language. I’m very fond of words, being a voracious reader and prolific writer myself. I just recognized that not everybody shares my love of words, so I’m careful not to dive into the deep end, word-choice-wise, until I’m sure that the person I’m speaking with ALSO likes to swim in those depths. I don’t want them to feel like I’m patronizing them, or trying to snowball them with big words to “prove” how smart I am. I’d rather my work product take care of that! ;)
As far as laughing less… well… that’s probably true. As somebody who’s chosen “Chief Happiness Officer” as a profession, there’s already a stigma there that I’m “not serious” about my work, and while nothing could be further from the truth, there’s no benefit in furthering the stereotype. I still laugh a LOT more than most people I know, a situation I’m actively working on fixing, and NOT just by laughing less! (Corporate cultures change slowly, y’all!)
Do you notice that YOU have a “work persona”? How different are you when you interact professionally versus among your friends and family? And more importantly, how can you make sure that’s not a fundamental change in WHO you are, but more HOW you express your authentic self in ways that are more effective based on your audience?