When you’re involved in a negotiation, mediation or litigation if you’re trying to get another person to see things your way what matters is not only what you say but how you say it. A recent study from the University of Michigan looks at how effective speakers were at getting subjects to agree to take a survey. They found that the smoothest, fastest speakers were the least effective.
Science Daily reports that the study looked at how speech characteristics impacted decisions to take a telephone survey. Researchers listened to recordings of 1,380 calls by 100 male and female telephone interviewers. They analyzed speech rates, fluency and pitch, as well as their ability to convince people to take the survey.
- Rate of Speech
Those trying to recruit survey takers who spoke moderately fast (about 3.5 words/minute) were much more successful than those speaking very quickly or very slowly. Fast talkers may have been perceived as dishonest and slower talkers could have been seen as less intelligent.
One speech scientist expected those using a varied pitch (high and low) would be more successful but that was not the case. It may be seen as artificial by the listener.
Pitch is normally driven by gender, body size and size of the person’s larynx (voice box). Men generally have a lower pitch while women normally have a higher pitch. Higher pitched males had a tougher time than men with deeper voices, but there was no clear evidence that pitch mattered for female speakers.
Fluency is the number and length of pauses when speaking. Interviewers who used frequent, short pauses were more successful than their more fluent colleagues (those with fewer pauses). Normally people pause four or five times a minute. Speakers who took no pauses had the lowest success rates. Researchers state they may have sounded too scripted or rehearsed.
Pausing too much can make on sound like they’re not fluent with English but the study found that the most “disfluent” had higher success rates than use who took no pauses at all.
Language is the tool that lawyers use in their trade. For most lawyers they wouldn’t be lawyers if not for their language skills. But when you’re trying to persuade someone, whether it’s an opposing party, opposing counsel, judge, jury or even your client, you may be well served not to show off all those verbal skills or you’ll be seen as too glib, shallow and untrustworthy.
Slow down a little bit, use your natural pitch and punctuate your words with pauses. Trying to convince someone is not a race, take a breath or two. It may be time well spent.