Voice and Character

Voice and Character

“There is no index of character as sure as the voice.” ― Benjamin Disraeli

Truer words were never spoken. Whether you are already in a leadership position, on some rung midway up the corporate ladder, or right out of high school, wondering what direction your life will take, the way you speak is going to influence your current success and future trajectory.

Of course you have to speak knowledgeably and accurately, but more specifically, the way you deliver that accurate knowledge will convey far more information, not only about your content, but about your intent. And intention reflects character. In other words, if vocal delivery indicates intent, and intention reflects character, then voice reveals character.

With that in mind, the million-dollar question becomes:

“When you speak, what elements of your character are you showing the world?”

To borrow the parlance of the quote above, what does your “character index” sound like?

Think about it: when someone utters the words, “Nice Haircut,”how do you know whether they are paying you a compliment or an insult? Click on the phrase or sound bar and listen to four different ways someone might say it. At what point do you hear sincerity or insincerity/sarcasm? What about indifference, admiration, mockery? What does that tell you about the speaker? How do you feel about her (me!)?


Of course, you might argue that you don’t really know anything about the speaker since you’ve only heard two words, which brings up two other extremely important points.

First, we have instinctive, emotional and even visceral responses to the sound of someone’s voice, even from as little as two words. A simple two-word response of enthusiasm or impatience can make the listener feel recognized or dismissed, affirmed or belittled, supported or embarrassed. So we have to be careful how we use our voices even on minor comments in passing, to make sure we don’t give off the wrong impression in a way that is hurtful to the listener, and ultimately to ourselves and our reputation.

Second, whether or not we know anything for sure about the speaker, we infer so much about their character based on how they sound when they speak, again, even if it’s only two words. If we hear sincerity in the compliment, we think – at least for the moment – that that person is nice, friendly, supportive. If we hear indifference, we may assume the person is rude or self-absorbed. Sarcasm aimed at us makes us believe the person is insecure and needs to feel better about herself by putting others down, lacks emotional intelligence or, colloquially, is “just a jerk.”

Whether or not any of these observations are categorically true about the speaker’s character is anyone’s guess, but most likely it’s true at least some of the time. Sure, it’s possible that we simply misheard the speaker or otherwise completely misunderstood what they said, much less what they meant by it, but that’s all the more reason to be mindful of how we speak to minimize the likelihood of these misunderstandings, since we know that no matter how we sound, people are going to make assumptions about us based on how the hear us.

In planning ahead, I challenge you to look back: What does your vocal delivery prompt others to list on your “character index”? What will you do about it moving forward to create the positive leadership image you want to project to the world?