Saying How You Really Feel (with a qualifier)

verbalIn my current job, I have to give presentations on a fairly regular basis. As such, I usually do a practice run with my coworkers first, especially before delivering to clients. One of the major criticisms I used to receive was about the cadence and volume of my voice. They warned me to avoid vocal fry and uptalk especially, and said instead to speak with authority. Throughout my life, I’ve always had people comment on how I talk. From friends to people I waited tables for, my unique way of speaking is always drawing comment. I talk very slowly. I sound like I’m from California. My voice goes up and down  in pitch like a lullaby (really). So, I tend to pay attention to how I sound when it matters, and am sure to speak in an evenly measured pace and tone, because even though it’s difficult to remember to moderate your voice, I like to be taken seriously when I talk.

While there has been a movement against valley-girl speak on the internet for a while, recently there have been several articles written about a newly identified vocal trend among women. It’s about how frequently women start sentences with the phrase, “I feel like,” and (again) it’s a verbal tic I am guilty of using.  The articles suppose that women use it to moderate their opinions, making them softer, less aggressive, and hence more likely to be accepted by their (particularly male) conversation partners, and I think they are probably not far off. When I find myself using the statement, it’s typically for one of two reasons. First, when someone is forcing me to give an opinion that I would rather not share, so I’m not fully committing in case everyone totally disagrees (think when your professor calls on you in class and you haven’t been paying attention). Second, when I know that people aren’t going to love what I have to say, so I am making it a sentence they can empathize with as a feeling more than attacking them with my opinion.

The phrase reminds me of the way people are often taught to discuss uncomfortable situations, or reason with unreasonable people, the “when you do X it makes me feel Y” communication technique, by making the sentence a feeling, people are less likely to outright reject what you are saying. Additionally, Lean In, and all it’s spin-off literature has called attention to the fact that overly assertive or aggressive women are seen as less likeable by both men and women. Starting a sentence in a less aggressive way may be a verbal way that women are trying to make their audience like them more, and get on their side, because people who like you are always going to be more receptive to what you’re trying to say.

Do you use this lead in? Why do you think women are using it more and more often than men?

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