Are You Expressing Your Point of View When You Talk?
This article was originally published on election morning, November 8, 2016 by a leading German daily newspaper, Die Welt. Prophetically, they chose to change the original title "Clinton vs. Trump: A Case Study in Persuasion” to "Trump will win - he has a better voice."
Most of us would like to think of ourselves as wise and considered rational beings. We use language for such pragmatic functions as communicating content and direction. But if the basic meanings of words themselves are so general that individually unique humans, with all their layered experiences, can use the same words to describe vastly different experiences, then how can, “I went to the beach yesterday,” convey my experience, my identity from the meaning of this clump of words? In fact, you can’t even tell whether this was a pleasant or unpleasant experience for me. What in my voice beyond the words themselves carries my identity, depth of caring and feeling, if not the content itself?
Research shows us that vocal variety increases the perception of credibility and charisma in the listener. This is not new, but the ‘why’ is.
Melody in a human’s voice conveys point of view. Melody is made up of two elements: pitch variation – tones going high and low and everywhere in between; and tempo – how long, short, quick or slow a person speaks and varies speed within a phrase. A phrase is an exhaled bunch of words, put together in between each inhale to put the next bunch of words together. Watch someone talk and you’ll see them exhale a bunch of words and then inhale again – those words are a phrase.
For example, Donald Trump has more musical variety in his vocal expression than Hillary Clinton. More musicality means a greater sense of one’s point of view (i.e. opinion). When I know someone’s point of view, I am much more likely to have one myself. When I do not know someone’s point of view I am much more likely to be suspicious of their intentions. And if I‘m suspicious of someone’s intentions, I trust them less. When I am allowed to have a point of view about another’s point of view, I may not agree with them but I am more likely to trust them. If I disagree with someone, inherently I believe them – after all, I must believe them enough to disagree with them. I like trusting others because it helps me to know myself, and to project my identity into the world. I exist since they exist.
Hillary Clinton has little variation in her musicality, at times in her past even substituting volume for musicality. That’s like substituting Aspartame for honey, it feels more effective to the speaker but it doesn’t stick to the bones of the listener. If the speaker has not allowed me to see myself more clearly by understanding their point of view musically, there is nothing compelling about the experience. If it is not compelling, I’m simply left to witness an event instead of experience myself in it. My identity is what is reflected back to me. I see myself clearest when the mirrored reflection is clearest. A common device in torture is isolation. When I’m in isolation I lose a sense of myself, because there is nothing outside me to reflect myself off or reflect myself back at me. A lack of musicality creates a witnessing experience for the listener, and as a witness I end up feeling left out of the main event. I become an outsider, and I don’t like feeling like an outsider. Without varied musicality I get ahead of the information, not because I’m not interested in it, but because the lack of suspense fails to hold the attention of both me as the speaker and me as the listener.
When I hear a point of view, I’m able to relate myself to it – I can either agree or disagree, and both will move the conversation forward. Family members can cultivate the necessary feelings and viewpoints to feud with other family members for generations, in some instances. Points of view have staying power: they create attachment to oneself and to others. They are the subject material of great plays and myths, the DNA of heroes and villains alike.
Neutrality is like a cobweb: flimsy and eerie, dusty and old, a sign of death. We gingerly walk through them, our suspicion on high alert. Which way do I go? Maybe best to stop and turn around. I’m alone.
I have been conditioned to hear my leaders sound a certain way. They come on TV and, like a parent, tell me about decisions already made and how I need to act in light of them. I then have the clarity to agree or disagree with them. I am not accustomed to hearing my leaders talk about the nuances of policy or the realities of a complex situation. I do not want to hear this from my leaders, it sounds weak and somehow ‘un-leadery’ and definitely non-parental. When I’m being parented I feel safer and more protected. I feel as if death is not around the corner waiting to snatch me up at any moment. I feel complete and I can get on with my life. I know I am deluding myself deep down, that death is everywhere at all times in all things and that death is completely natural, but I don’t like it so I am happy to pretend – with my leader’s assurance – that it is all being handled by the parent. Once I was abandoned as a child, so I feel redemption when my leader sounds like they’ll stand with me with their committed tones.
The smart side of my brain picks out words for meaning, the sappy side feels and sways with the music – which side controls my gut? There are certain words that have rolled so far down the hill and amassed so many things in their path they no longer resemble the original meaning. I’m left simply with the grooves and contours, the flats and sharps of the delivery device. I hear rather than see.