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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.

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24 Comments on "Would You Like Vocal Fries With that Order?"

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DonnaPapacosta
DonnaPapacosta
3 years 11 months ago

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???

Mark Story
Mark Story
3 years 11 months ago

 @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.
 

DonnaPapacosta
DonnaPapacosta
3 years 11 months ago

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

econwriter5
3 years 11 months ago

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

Mark Story
Mark Story
3 years 11 months ago

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

gilliatt
gilliatt
3 years 11 months ago

 @Mark Story That would make a nice ADA complaint.

jenzings
jenzings
3 years 11 months ago
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”… Read more »
jenzings
jenzings
3 years 11 months ago

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.

MarkStory
MarkStory
3 years 11 months ago

 @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.

jenzings
jenzings
3 years 11 months ago
 @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… Read more »
Jonathan Eyler Werve
Jonathan Eyler Werve
3 years 11 months ago

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. 

Jonathan Eyler Werve
Jonathan Eyler Werve
3 years 11 months ago

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! 

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger
3 years 11 months ago
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… Read more »
MarkStory
MarkStory
3 years 11 months ago

 @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.

maggielmcg
3 years 11 months ago

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. 

jenzings
jenzings
3 years 11 months ago
 @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… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 11 months ago
@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… Read more »
MarkStory
MarkStory
3 years 11 months ago

 @ginidietrich  @jenzings  @maggielmcg I like totally like this like conversation.

ExtremelyAvg
3 years 11 months ago
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,… Read more »
Jonathan Eyler Werve
Jonathan Eyler Werve
3 years 11 months ago

 @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
3 years 11 months ago
 @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… Read more »
Jonathan Eyler Werve
Jonathan Eyler Werve
3 years 11 months ago

 @jenzings  @ExtremelyAvg Vocal fry is generally considered a marker of Millennials. But you’re right — it isn’t explicit. 

flemingsean
flemingsean
3 years 11 months ago

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.

ShakirahDawud
3 years 11 months ago

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.

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