Upspeak is Not Speaking Up

Upspeak is NOT Speaking Up Upspeak ( Uptalk) had its beginning in the era of the Valley Girl in California. It has since spread its tentacles across the years to wrap around the speaking habits of both women and men of all ages. Why is this phenomenon significant? Because Upspeakers unknowingly compromise the quality of the competent, knowledgeable leadership image that they want to project.

Columnist Hank Davis writes, in The Uptalk Epidemic,

“It’s a nasty habit. It is the very opposite of confidence or assertiveness. It’s gotten all out of control. These days, even statements about which there should be no question or doubt are presented in this tentative, timid and deferential manner.”

When statements and assertions sound like questions, your credibility and competence can be doubted. When you give advice or offer an educated assessment of a set of facts, the perception of your expertise gets chipped away when you sound like you are asking a question. Would you want to be represented by or rely on the advice someone who sounds unsure and tentative? Tentative is the dark side of Confident. Your voice should reflect everything you want your listener to believe about you. You have substance. You are in control. You are knowledgeable. You have the answer….not that you are unsure of yourself and are seeking validation.

In less than a second, the time it takes to say “hello,” we make a snap judgment about someone’s personality, says Jody Kreiman, a UCLA researcher who studies how we perceive voice. On hearing just a brief utterance, we decide whether to approach the person or to avoid them. I would add that in that same split second, we decide if that person has “gravitas” and has the expertise to solve our problem, address our concerns, represent our interests.

I’ve personally witnessed Upspeak at the highest levels of Fortune 100 companies, and I’ve heard it used as a reason to deny a promotion or discredit an idea. A wise career move is to take the time to analyze your own speaking patterns and snuff out Upspeak. Record yourself in a variety of speaking situations and LISTEN objectively. Become your own audience. Elicit feedback from a trusted friend or colleague. To be perceived as a leader and person of substance, you must not only LOOK like a leader with a polished physical image, you must also SOUND like a leader with a polished Vocal Image.

Smart Hacks for Successful Travel

Summer is a time of travel and travel is a time of interaction with cultures, custom, and languages different from those we know.  A small amount of preparation for these travels, paired with a large degree of awareness of best practices while travelling (foreign OR within the US) can reap big rewards and make you a wise and welcome tourist.  Picture yourself as a ‘’native’’ of your region.  What makes you most likely to want to help someone who needs directions or assistance?  If someone were to approach you on the streets of Morristown , speak to you in Russian, and expect you to understand and respond, criticize your city or country, how would you feel?  Anxious to help him or her?  I don’t think so… and yet, many travelling Americans expect everyone to speak to them in English and do everything the same way “we” do it.  Granted, English is an international language and is widely spoken, but attitude is everything.   Have a good one.  Here are a few things that you can do before and during your trip that will build rapport and make your travel easier and more pleasant.

Before you leave:  

  • Take some time to learn some ‘’survival’’ words in the language of the country you are visiting.  There are so many apps with sound that make it easy.   Good Morning, Hello, Please, Thank You, Excuse Me, I’m sorry, or asking for Help, paired with a big smile, can work wonders.
  • Learn the “Question Words” of Why, Where, Who, When, How Much, How.  With matching body language, you’ll be able to communicate on a basic level.
  • Do some basic cultural research.  The web is chock full of customs and other cultural information.  Learn a little about where you are going.  Focus on American behaviors and gestures that might not be welcome where you are travelling.  You can also find this basic information in Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (Morrison), an exhaustive book about interactions in 60 countries. Being clued in on what is important to the residents of the country or area you are visiting will help you avoid accidentally offending someone or embarrassing yourself.

When you are there:

  • Remember to smile, lean in to show friendliness, and don’t be afraid to use the words and phrases you’ve learned.  Don’t worry about how well you say them.  Your effort will be appreciated and welcomed. Use your foreign words frequently, especially Please and Thank You.
  • Play “Charades.”  Use your body and your voice tonality to communicate non- verbally.  You’d be surprised how far this goes toward understanding, paired with the combination of limited English ability on one side of the exchange and limited native language ability on the other.  Work towards common understanding with a smile and ‘’open’’ face.
  • Be cautious in your interactions.  Avoid politics and religion and never criticize or mock the customs or religious beliefs of the country you are visiting….even if the local person does!  Just because they may speak negatively of their government or religion does NOT mean that you can agree or add your comments.  Be wary on touchy subjects!  Offending locals can be uncomfortable at the least and dangerous at the most.
  • Be appreciative of all that is offered to  you and avoid making negative comparisons to what you have or eat ‘’at home.’’  Enjoy what is unique to that country or region and do not appear to question its quality.

These hacks, developed throughout a lifetime of foreign travel and extensive conversation with foreign expats here in New Jersey, will help you to be the enlightened, savvy, and welcome visitor, both in other regions of the US and abroad.  Happy travelling!!

Ungained Business

Being Understood:  It’s EVERYTHING!!

When people can’t understand you, they can’t buy what you’re selling, understand your requests, offer you a job, or promote you to a better position. The inability of professional, managerial, and sales staff to communicate clearly or intelligibly present complex ideas in English can also cost the employer new clients and have significant negative impact on keeping existing clients and on the credibility of the manager’s, professional’s, or salesperson’s expertise.  

Have you ever ended a business, professional, or customer service conversation in anger and frustration because of the inability to understand or be understood?  Does poor speech or writing ability have impact on your confidence in the service provider or professional?  How confident do professionals feel when constantly asked to repeat what they say?

Many metrics exist in business to track “business lost” but nothing exists to track business ungained.   Consider this real-life scenario described to me a few years ago by a business acquaintance who happened to share an elevator with two attorneys in her Manhattan accounting firm.  The lawyers had just finished interviewing a forensic accounting associate for the purpose of bringing him into a matter they were handling.  “Well, we certainly can’t use this firm, ” one attorney was overheard in comment to the other.  “I didn’t understand a word he said.” Business ungained.  No one will ever know why the firm did not get the business and no one will ever tell the associate that it was because of his heavy accent, which made his expertise unintelligible and questionable.  

Could this scenario happen in your business?

Fortunately, improving pronunciation and/or writing are very teachable skills. Business owners and decision-makers are now realizing that it makes economic sense to provide language and culture-related support to their skilled and loyal employees.  Professional and non-professional employees can be helped to overcome language challenges.  This firm began providing accent reduction coaching to its talented foreign-born financial professionals who would be client-facing and giving oral presentations.  

Language Directions can help you to help your valuable accent-challenged employees.  Quickly, Efficiently, and Confidentially.  

One State Many Languages

One State + Many Languages = Countless Communication Challenges

The US Census Bureau recently released the most comprehensive statistics concerning languages other than English spoken at home by U.S. residents.   This past Sunday, Craig McCarthy of the Star Ledger put together the Top Ten Languages spoken in New Jersey:

  1.  Arabic.  Spoken by 59,729
  2.  Hindi (India).  Spoken by 63,342
  3. Polish.  Spoken by 33,346
  4. Gujarati (India).  Spoken by 75,414
  5. Korean.  Spoken by 76,224
  6.  Italian.  Spoken by 78,856
  7.  Tagalog (Phillipines).  Spoken by 81,134
  8.  Portuguese.  Spoken by 84,160
  9.  Chinese (all dialects). Spoken by 111,151
  10.  Spanish (all dialects).  Spoken by 1,277,000

Why are these numbers significant?

Armed with these statistics, it’s easy to understand why effective communication in the workplace can be a challenge.  With each language comes corresponding cultural behaviors which can be mystifying to those not born into that culture.  On the other hand, the cultural behaviors of American born residents are equally mystifying to those not born in this country.  

A lack of understanding leads to a lack of trust and loss of credibility, which can negatively affect business.  If confidence and mutual respect erode, safety and production errors can occur.  If the only time these employees speak English is at work, an astounding 1,973,356 residents of New Jersey will have great difficulty in overcoming their language challenges to become comfortable and fluent.   How can an employer be assured that all employees understand essential compliance and safety training and can ask the necessary questions to clarify what they don’t understand?  Assuredly, most won’t ask those questions either for lack of sufficient English ability or fear of losing the respect of supervisors or co-workers.   Is the company protected if only the English speakers receive important training?  I can’t answer that one; I can only ask the question…And you should too!

A quick fix can be arranged through use of bilingual “Facilitators.”  Education levels and cultural considerations often make word-by-word interpretation (spoken) inappropriate.  Similarly, literacy levels might make the cost of translation (documents) irrelevant if they cannot be read.  In many cases, “Facilitation” can address the challenge of communicating essential information across languages.  


One or more bilingual Facilitators work in tandem with your internal trainer or vendor to paraphrase the content of the presentation to deliver it at an appropriate level of understanding to the various cultures represented in your workforce.  Prepared Facilitation allows your limited-English employees to ask relevant and appropriate questions to assure their total understanding of the subject being discussed.  No mutual mystification.  Simple, straightforward, unambiguous understanding .   In any language.  In your workplace.