Speak Now: Accents of Authority

“To Sound Like a Leader” by Daniel Akst. The Wall Street Journal, 11/29/2014.

Advertising agencies know accents. They have to. They know Americans are influenced by a Scottish accent. Make it more upscale by changing it to aristocratic British. Or give it the common-man appeal by adding a little Cockney (like when selling cleaning products). Just don’t make it American, especially New Yorkese.   A little Dinah-Shore-southern might be okay, but Emma-Thompson-British is better.

Now university researchers have proven it. They have found voices of people with authority, the best type to sell us a car or to convince us to use a particular toothpaste, are higher pitch and more monotonous.   High pitch and monotonous says “upper class British” to me.

Students were randomly assigned to a high-authority (HA) or low-authority (LA) group. Those in the HA group were told something positive, like, “You have valuable inside information.” Those in the LA group were told to just think of a past situation of embarrassingly low authority. Both groups were recorded while reading the same negotiating passage. Sure enough, the HA group’s reading gained pitch and lost variability in tone. The LA group did the opposite. This was surprising because the common thought is that a deep voice conveys authority.  (The HA group showed more variation in volume, which does not sound particularly British, but sure describes my older sister in our childhood days.  Lord, could she yell—with authority!)

A second group of students was brought in to listen to the recordings, and they could accurately predict who was HA and who was LA.

Should we then consciously raise our tone when arguing with an insurance adjuster? Not necessary, says the leader of the research. The studies showed that simply recalling beforehand a situation where you had great authority was just as effective at boosting the vocal-authority signals.

“Think, and it will be,” should be your motto when negotiating, I kid you not.





About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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