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Guest

Would You Like Vocal Fries With that Order?

By: Guest | May 8, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Mark Story

Recently, Fast Company ran an article called “The Verbal Tic Of Doom: Why The ’Vocal Fry’ Is Killing Your Job Search,” by Craig Chappelow.

The premise of the article is this: Craig’s organization, the Center for Creative Leadership of Greensboro, N.C., was hiring for “a position that involved a high degree of interaction with senior executive clients, so we were looking for someone with the skills and experience to operate at that level.”

And the recruitment process rolled along.

Craig’s colleagues at the Center winnowed down a list of resumes to three and presented them to him for phone interviews. His first candidate seemed “like a perfect match of background and experience” on paper. So he called her. Turns out that she was not a perfect fit in Craig’s eyes.

As Craig wrote:

But when I spoke with the candidate, I ruled her out immediately. Why? Because of how she talked on the phone. Every sentence ended in a gravelly low vibrato. It was a grating, kazoo-like effect that made the candidate sound immature, unconfident, and, frankly, annoying… It turns out there’s a name for the way she spoke–it’s called glottilization or vocal fry, a voice trend among both genders and particularly prominent with young women.

In my mind, there are two things wrong with this situation.

  1. First, I love snark. My guest posting on Spin Sucks should be proof enough of that. But this article mocks a young woman in a very, very public setting. You can bet that whomever this woman is was sent this article by friends if she had not discovered it on her own. It mocks her. Craig took what is supposed to be a highly confidential process and made it semi-public. Sure, the woman is not named, but you can be damned sure she and her friends know who she is. Calling out a young woman for sounding “immature, unconfident, and, frankly, annoying” would cross the Center for Creative Leadership off my list of potential employers pretty damn fast. Unprofessional times 10, Craig.
  2. Second, of course the “vocal fry” is annoying. This was a communications position, and as communicators, we have to <duh> – communicate well. A tone of voice that truly distracts from the message can be the phone interview equivalent of not wearing pants to an in-person interview. BUT – if someone speaks to me using this “glottilization,” I will at least try to take the time to listen to the content of what he or she is saying rather than presuming their tone of speech indicates forthcoming words like “fer sure” or “totally!”

Bottom line? I think the article is snarky, which I usually like, but is way out of bounds for calling out an easily identified young woman whom the author describes as “a perfect match of background and experience.”

Does using the vocal fry make you sound like an idiot? Sure, it might. But think about it: Who looks bigger now? The girl trying to get a position? Or the hiring manager who rules her out for her “annoying” manner of speech and then goes public with it?

P.S. – And Craig: I fer sure, like totally won’t be sending in my… like…resumeeeee…

The views expressed in this blog post are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chairman, Commissioners, nor my colleagues at my Secret Government Employer.

Mark Story is the Director of New Media for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC. He has worked in the social media space for more than 15 years for global public relations firms, most recently, Fleishman-Hillard. Mark is currently writing a book, “Starting a Career in Social Media” due to be published in January 2013 by Skyhorse Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @mstory123.

24 comments
ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

I've never heard of vocal fries, but I've certainly had 'em served to me. It can get irritating, and... honestly... I probably wouldn't hire someone to do a lot of talking whose voice I didn't want to hear. But the thought that her voice was my main issue would probably never surface from my subsconscious. I'd probably blame something else, never realizing it. Because I agree with @flemingsean that it's not that important, but that's my conscious mind talking. Subsconsciously, I've probably made a lot of decisions on how to respond to and interact with people based on the sound of their voice.

flemingsean
flemingsean

Why on earth would anyone (and yes, Mr Chappelow I *am* looking at you) publicise the fact they would make such a boneheaded judgement call..?

 

The way a person speaks is important, of course.  But not that important.

 

BTW, and in case you were wondering, I - being a Brit - have the kind of accent some people immediately find makes me sound more intelligent.  This is, of course, ridiculous.

 

Class, snobbery and segregation - in all forms - are vile.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

I went and read the article in question and watched the video. The error that the author Craig made, was not in calling her out, but (and I presume he had her address) in not going to her home and beating her to death with a hard bound dictionary or thesaurus. Naturally, this would have been followed up by tracking down the teachers in her life, who didn't put a stop to it earlier and pummeling and buffeting them about the pate with the aforementioned tome.  As an encore, he could have found the person who trains athletes to use "Uhm, you know" between every phrase in a sentence and similarly brained them.  I don't care if you are a great QB or Middle linebacker, you aren't required to sound like an idiot.

 

Now, I am not a parent, which is good both for me and any poor child that would be in my care, because I would be dreadful at it, but what has happened to the kids now a days.  I mean, they are disrespectful, get rides to school or have fancy cars on 16th birthday (I had to walk...uphill...both ways), and continue to take pride in being as stupid and idiotic as humanely possible.

 

I didn't know what the term "Vocal Fry" meant before today.  I think we should ban it along with smoking in public places.

 

Good for Craig.  Call her out, call him out, call them out, for being dumb. Let's stop shooting for mediocre and then celebrating the accomplishment.

 

Brian Meeks

Bittertown, USA (just before the Angryville turnoff)

Latest blog post: Follow the Blank Page

maggielmcg
maggielmcg

I can't imagine how this guy wouldn't be liable for discrimination. What if she was a stutterer or had some other speech impediment? Would it be ok to not hire her in that case? Granted, of course I'm hyper-aware of these issues because I work at an association that represents communication science and disorder professionals, but honestly--publicly acknowledging that you didn't hire someone because they "talk funny" seems pretty disingenuous to me. 

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

He shouldn't have called her out in a public forum -- but I definitely think he was right to not hire her. She would be filling a position that required her to communicate with important clients. She would be representing them. If her style of communicating didn't match theirs, for whatever reason, she wasn't the right candidate! I've had issues with this in my own organization. We try to keep things very friendly, casual and approachable. If you have someone that is too "buttoned up" it can come off as cold -- especially via email. In our case it was an easy tweak, but changing your voice would be a bigger hurdle! LOL

Jonathan Eyler Werve
Jonathan Eyler Werve

Also: calling out Kim Kardashian for how unprofessionally she talks kind of ignores, like, the way she totally made ~$30 million dollars last year running an entirely unconventional suite of media properties. But, like, what does she know about business? She doesn't even have an MBA! 

Jonathan Eyler Werve
Jonathan Eyler Werve

Part of a long tradition of using speech patterns to reinforce race/class/origin distinctions, dressed up as a job qualification. I take how a person treats people who do not matter as a good indicator of whether I want to work with someone. In this case, not impressive.

 

Good on Mark for calling this out. 

jenzings
jenzings

Mark, I just read the Fast Company piece, and I could be mistaken but it sounds like the colleagues winnowed down the applicants to a short stack, and the phone interviews were conducted from that stack to reduce *those* down to three.

 

By my reading, he certainly isn't off the hook, but it doesn't sound like it was one person among three, it sounds like it was one person among a number, who were to be winnowed down to three. So, less immediately identifiable, but still unprofessional.

jenzings
jenzings

Calling out someone in a public setting, especially when they are readily identifiable, is unprofessional and wrong. He could have easily restructured the story. It would have taken some thought, but directly conveying the facts as they happened is, frankly, unkind, and there is never an acceptable reason to be unkind.

 

That said, I do think that young people who are considering careers in communication need to be cognizant of their speech patterns. The ability to communicate verbally without using "like" every other word, or using strange vocalization patterns (I honestly have never heard of the term "vocal fry" but given the description I understand what it means) WILL BE important at some point for a communicator.

 

In short, I agree with your point that the content is important--but in communications presentation matters too. People starting out in careers in communications don't need to sit around reciting "the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain," but eliminating some of these types of habits can do nothing but help them in the long run.

econwriter5
econwriter5

I'm fascinated when people find one tone of voice more annoying than another. The vocal fry v. say, the southern accent.

DonnaPapacosta
DonnaPapacosta

Hmm. Apparently on Livefyre it's still Remembrance/Veterans' Day.

DonnaPapacosta
DonnaPapacosta

I agree it was out of line to refer to the candidate in this way. THAT BEING SAID, I really do believe that one's tone of voice and manner of speaking are not quite as important as the content, but VERY close. I have a hard time taking seriously anyone who speaks with a vocal fry or uptalk. Know, like, what I mean???

Jonathan Eyler Werve
Jonathan Eyler Werve

 @ExtremelyAvg  There was a time when entry level hires were seen as something other than ungrateful wretches, and instead treated as potentially valuable contributors, worth investing in. As you note: a vocal tick is easily corrected. If no one had been willing to correct my rough edges, I would still be throwing boxes in a freight yard. 

jenzings
jenzings

 @maggielmcg I don't think speech is a protected class. Her learned-habit affected speech would not rise to the status of a disability. This is key: the way she was talking is learned behavior. Which means that it can be corrected.

 

While I think he was wrong in calling her out in a manner that was possibly personally identifiable (although I do think that the calls placed were from a larger pool than three by my reading of the Fast Company article), he was not wrong in pointing out that anyone striving to be a communicator needs to identify and correct speech patterns that are learned, not physical impediments.

 

And, as far as stuttering goes, I dated a guy in college who had a stutter. You would never have known it, because he had trained and practiced how to speak to avoid "danger" words. Anecdotes are not data, but suggesting that her vocal frying was a disability that should be protected is demeaning to those who actually do struggle--in my opinion.

MarkStory
MarkStory

 @TaraGeissinger Totally agree,  It's up to him to hire the right person for the postion, and if verbal skills are important, it's his call.  Calling her out in public was the big no-no.

MarkStory
MarkStory

 @jenzings Good catch, Jen.  I read it differently.  I'll tell you what, though.  I am pretty sure that this guy has no idea of how much he hurt his organization's recruiting standing.  There is NO WAY I would consider even applying for a position there.

Mark Story
Mark Story

 @econwriter5 Or a stutterer?  Would Craig have written a snarky post about a candidate qualified on paper who had a terrible stutter?

Mark Story
Mark Story

 @DonnaPapacosta I hear you Donna.  And think that it could well have ruled out this candidate - legitimately because of the purported level of interaction with senior executives.  That said, I sure hope that "excellent verbal communication skills" were listed as job requirements.  AND - I still think that the guy is a jerk for calling this young lady out.

 

jenzings
jenzings

 @Jonathan Eyler Werve  @ExtremelyAvg I've read the article three times, and I don't see any direct indication that this was an entry-level hire. In fact, when I read that they were looking for someone who would have "a high degree of interaction with senior executive clients" I guessed it was at very least a mid-level position. The fact that he referenced her "considerable track record" also seems to point to a mid-career applicant. Essentially, she's just hit the wall where the verbal tic will start to hold her back. That's sad.

 

I suppose the question is: who should be guiding her (and her peers, this is by no means an isolated issue) in correcting this speech pattern? @ExtremelyAvg touches on who made those corrections for me: my parents (specifically my father). While I never lapsed into speech patterns like this, he did point out when I would pronounce words incorrectly, or note incorrect usage, and when the Valley Girl phase struck (I am a product of the '80s) he entertained that for a while but noted that if it stuck, I wouldn't be taken seriously. He was right about that, and did a good job parenting.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jenzings @maggielmcg I agree with both of you. I don't think the guy should have called her out (what's the saying - punk the idea, not the person?), and I do think he likely could be liable, ESPECIALLY if it prevents her from getting a job in the future (oh you're the girl in the Fast Company article...yeah, we don't want you here either). 

 

But I read it as if it were today's valley girl talk, which is learned and something that can be stopped.

 

That said, we can all agree this is an issue and there are likely some legal issues this guy could face, just on public flogging alone. But it's not demeaning to those who do have a disability. 

jenzings
jenzings

 @MarkStory I honestly have a different perspective on this. While I think that his treatment of this subject was coarse and unnecessarily unkind, I do think that he was right to consider how she would be received by those who she would be working with. Hiring her if she continued to talk like that, knowing it would go over like a lead balloon, is setting her up to fail. That isn't fair either.

 

And frankly, those who want to enter the field of communications need to know this matters--at least to some. Since it is learned behavior, it can be corrected. I can't remember where Andrew and I were recently, but the young lady we were seated near was talking to a friend and every other word was "like." It was noticeable enough to be completely distracting. You stop listening to the words and just start counting "likes." This is unacceptable for communicators, and we aren't doing individuals like this any favors by pretending it isn't. It's like saying "irregardless" is now used so often it's considered non-standard usage. That doesn't make it acceptable for people who should know better to use it.

 

Speech affectations like the one mentioned in this article are learned behavior and entirely correctable. The sooner they start working on this, the wider their options will be. She can probably write well, but why close yourself out of a broader range of positions?