How Speaking Softly Can Help You Create More Impact

How to exist in the world of loud noises and still thrive

Controlling your tongue is an admirable ability. Alas, very few people seem to have it.

Most meetings, discussions, and calls are a barrage of noises from all directions. It’s the noise of people’s egos trying to *be heard *instead of trying to add value.

It’s not that their words don’t have any value. It’s the motivation behind their speaking that is the issue. And trust me, the listener picks up on this. We know when someone is saying something just for the sake of it versus genuinely trying to help.

This happens because we tend to associate good leadership with extroverted personalities. We think that the ‘charismatic’ and outgoing ones are fit for leadership roles. The ones who can get to know the whole room full of people in a matter of minutes.

Yet, it’s a misconception. The management guru, Peter Drucker said,

“The one and only personality trait the effective [leaders] I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no ‘charisma’ and little use either for the term or what it signifies.”

However, the world has trained us to believe otherwise.

As a young kid, one of the kids in my class was eye candy for girls. He spoke a lot — with his mouth and with his possessions. This instilled in me a false correlation — “To get respect from others you need a big mouth to show your achievements off.”

Teachers too cared a lot about ‘class participation’ — something I was not good at even though I excelled in the assignments. In other words, I delivered excellent results but was not so motivated to speak all the time.

Thus, the root of this problem, as with most problems lies in our childhood

When we grow up and think of leadership, we still think of the ambitious, strong, forceful person smashing down barriers and getting things done.

The person who does not do that is not seen as “leadership material.” They get talked over in meetings, often ignored, and find it hard to get their point across. On the flip side, their loud counterparts are perceived as more capable and driven.

I associate myself to be more like the former. I don’t speak a lot in meetings — only when I have a valuable point. I don’t try to sound smart in meetings and waste time.

This gave me the time to introspect and observe. And with that observation, I’ve uncovered an important insight. Soft-spoken people who don’t try to hijack conversations are actually better leaders than we think they are.

Speaking Softly Lowers All Guards

When you start talking to people, especially new connections, they’re often not receptive. They don’t want to listen to you. Because who wants to listen to other people anyway?

When you have difficult conversations with people it’s difficult to get your point across — they’re not receptive either. In such cases, the last thing you want to do is to scare them away.

What you need to do is make your voice go to their heart, and not to the ear.

Here’s a practical example.

Let’s say you want to critique some work done by your colleague who’s also your good friend. When you start listing all the things he did wrong, he may understand. But his ego will prevent him from learning the real lesson.

That is, he may understand it intellectually, but his heart is closed. Until he accepts your opinion in his heart, he’ll not act on it.

The way to the heart is through love. This is where your voice comes into play. A soft voice makes people feel relaxed and open. It conveys your love, respect, and gratitude. This makes it easier for you to share your opinions and also for them to improve on the feedback.

Your job is to uplift the people around you, and a soft voice does that.

M. Scott Pec said,

“Since true listening involves a setting aside of the self, it also temporarily involves a total acceptance of the others. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will feel less and less vulnerable, and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. As this happens, the speaker and listener begin to appreciate each other more and more, and the dance of love is begun again.”

You Can de-StressThings Around You

The world is already stressful. All of us have issues to deal with. We don’t need someone shouting in our ears, making us irritated and agitated. How is it even possible to talk to someone like that?

When I talk to people who’re extremely “bouncy,” or excited, I have a tendency to close my mental ears a little. It’s not that what they’re saying doesn’t matter. But their excitement and loudness are taking the joy away, instead of adding it.

A loud voice does nothing but creates stress in your body and brain. It puts extra pressure on your vocal cords. When you’re stressed, your vocal cords tighten up and your pitch accordingly raises. And then your attention drifts away from what you’re trying to say.

Speaking loudly is more exhausting than we realize.

As a high school kid, I went to debate competitions where I was competing with much older kids. They had heavy, loud voices. And me? I don’t think puberty even hit me properly at that time. They would shout to make their point and after every 2 minutes, they would gasp for a sip of water — a huge distraction. This is the edge that got me a prize regardless of all the odds against me.

In a group, one person is all it takes to heat up the conversation. Everyone picks up on his high cortisol levels. They think the only way to get heard is to speak louder than the other one. Soon the conversation turns into an argument and you wonder why things went south.

Don’t think people can’t pick up on these cues. Humans are really good at hearing stress in other people’s voices. That’s why we, as speakers, need to compensate.

By lowering your voice, you chill everyone out. There’s no need to raise your voice to make a point.

You Get the Spotlight

“When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety; if I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without pain.” — Rumi

It’s counterintuitive but true. Soft-spoken people try the least to win others’ attention. But end up getting it anyway.

Imagine this.

John is going on and on in the meeting, giving all his ideas while everyone waits for him to stop talking. The only thing is, he generally doesn’t stop, and everyone knows it.

After a while, it’s all just white noise and people are rolling their eyes.

Then Kevin pipes up. He doesn’t speak all the time, so people haven’t learned to tune him out. When he speaks, they listen.

Remember this — “Too much supply reduces the value.” People listen to people who are selective in their inputs. Soft-spoken people are respectful. They respect others by saving time and only speaking when required.

I used to think if I don’t speak in meetings and calls, my opinion would not count. But during one such session, I decided to do the opposite. I waited for everyone to speak.

When all the dust settled, they asked for my point of view and I gave it. Everyone actually listened and I no longer had to fight for attention.

Speaking softly and speaking less are not common traits. By doing it, you make yourself stand out from the crowd. And this makes them come to you rather than you chasing them.

You Always Radiate Positivity

The body language always trumps the content of the conversation. If you’re happy but your tone is extremely high, you can scare people off. But if your voice is low, you can draw people in even if the content itself is unpleasant.

This is key to bring others closer instead of scaring them away.

When Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson came out, many startup founders started to equate “visionary” with “lunacy” and “eccentricity.” They started being rude to their employees and thought that Steve’s behavior gave them the license to do so.

That’s the one thing I don’t like about such people. And I wonder why we’re always told to be loud, assertive, and dominating. As obvious as it seems, you can get things done with people without screaming at them.

Softness, not loudness, is the key to being heard.

You Get to Hear Others

When a person starts to prattle with a loud tone, the only thing I can think of is leaving the conversation as soon as possible.

Often people with good intentions spoil the conversation with their loud voices. They annoy their listeners. And when the listeners can’t find a suitable time to speak up, they shut up instead.

But when you approach people with a softer voice, you open them up. They feel comfortable sharing their views so you can finally listen.

How to Apply This in Your Life

Being soft-spoken is a skill that can be learned with practice. It’s not about changing your voice, but the emotion and the intention behind it.

Don’t force yourself to say something

Ask yourself why you’re saying something.

Is the motive to draw attention to yourself? To be heard? To get credit?

In such cases, it’s best not to speak. If you’re just speaking to make yourself heard and you’re not adding any value, there won’t be any weight in your word.

To make your word valuable, give it away cautiously.

Do the work, let everyone else speak

Even the best of the best respect those who deliver results. Most people only have a big mouth but nothing to back it up.

People respect (or even fear, depending upon the situation) those who get things done. Simply put, let your work speak for you.

Ultimately, people will listen to you more if you prove your merit on the battlefield. Anyone can speak up in strategy sessions. It’s a whole another game to execute.

Try a softer voice

In your next conversation, try to speak softer than usual and see what happens. The shift in the vibe is dramatic. Or even **do it now. **Call one of your friends and practice this art with them.

It will draw people in. It will create less drama and anger. And it will lead to better conversations and relationships.

Final Thought

Being soft-spoken and knowing when to shut up is a superpower.

If you can’t control your tongue, how can you be successful in life? But if you do, you’re a glowing example of self-control for others.

You’re able to collaborate effectively, connect deeply, and drive change while others continue to blabber in their loud voices.

Look at the quiet ones like Keanu Reeves — they intrigue us and we love them.

And so at the risk of sounding grandiose, I’d say you can change the world, one conversation at a time!

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Written on February 26, 2021