Does Changing Your Speech Style Sacrifice Your Identity?
12 October 2017 | 11:10 am
This morning a client made a comment that echoed the misguided frustrations of many people I encounter, when concerns about authenticity come up. After we had identified a vocal habit that was sabotaging her ability to project authority, and worked on skills to improve it, she said:
“Well, but I guess our bad habits are a part of our identity, right?”
The answer is a very simple yes… and no.
Your bad habits are a part of your current identity, but certainly don’t have to limit or otherwise dictate the identity you can grow into if you choose to do so.
Let’s look at it another way. Your current knowledge, experience, and education make up a part of who you are today, right? But if your boss told you that you weren’t eligible for a promotion that you really wanted because you lacked Six Sigma certification, it wouldn’t occur to you to say, “Well, but that certification isn’t part of my identity. To learn those skills and employ them when needed to succeed at the job I have or want would be inauthentic.” It sounds ridiculous in that context. You’d be scanning the internet for the next time a course was available to get that line item on your resume, wouldn’t you?
Similarly, while nobody wants to have to change their eating habits, if your doctor told you that your blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels were off the charts and caused a serious risk to your health, you wouldn’t argue that you can’t change your eating habits because they were part of your identity. Sure, some food preferences are foods we grew up on and are linked to our family culture. But if you want your identity to be someone who plays an active role in your children’s and grandchildren’s lives, instead of someone who might not be around to play any role, active or inactive, you’ll find ways to make small lifestyle changes that don’t require you to live on salad.
In case a “Yeah, but…” is creeping its way to your lips, let me reassure you: there is no difference between getting certified in Six-Sigma, adopting healthier eating habits, and learning to speak with greater breath support or tonality, regarding the impact the change will have on your degree of choice, authenticity or identity.
Sure, you are partially a product of your environment, upbringing, etc., but identity is equally a very personal choice.
If you know that your current speech style sounds about as energized as Ben Stein’s portrayal of the economics teacher in the movie Ferris Buller’s Day Off, putting people to sleep as you run the meeting or give your presentation, you have two choices: You can shrug it off and claim, “Well, that’s just the way I talk,” essentially blaming it on your identity, and resign yourself to the fact that nobody will ever want to hear you speak. Or, you can decide that you want people to pay attention to you, to be inspired by you, and choose to take control of the situation. If you want to do the latter, to have that positive, inspiring effect on people, you’ll choose to learn how to modify your delivery in a way that appropriately captures their interest, because you want that to be part of your identity.
Let me clarify: I’m not suggesting you take acting lessons to play the part of some character who is different from you. And a learning curve is to be expected, so any new skill or knowledge may feel awkward and clunky until you get used to using it, and it becomes second nature.
That’s the real goal: that the new speech habits (or eating habits, or management techniques) ultimately become second nature, and a new part of your chosen identity that makes you feel confident in yourself and your abilities, and gets the results you want.
Do you have trouble finding the balance between speaking in a way that feels authentic, and in a way that gets the results you want? Or do you have other questions or feedback about this issue? If so, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!