Dealing With Fear
as it relates to changing one’s way of speaking
Every client who comes to my office is seeking some sort of change. They come because there is some aspect of their communication style that is impacting their life negatively. Oftentimes, it is for professional reasons; they come independently or are sent by supervisors or HR because it becomes apparent that their communication style is preventing them from fully thriving in their current role or in reaching the next level of advancement. Their talents and potential are recognized, and so is this factor that is holding them back.
Some people seek voice and speech development for more personal reasons. They feel that their voices aren’t communicating their true selves or match the persona that they wish to be conveying to the world.
The range of issues and obstacles people present runs the gamut. There are the potentials who cannot command a space and use their voices effectively to lead people. There are those who are asked to repeat themselves again and again because people can’t understand them; they mumble, speak too fast, don’t speak loudly enough, have a strong accent that is difficult to understand, or speak in a monotone that makes them challenging to listen to. Or, maybe they speak with a vocal pattern that others find annoying, distracting, or disconcerting. This just begins to scratch the surface.
The funny thing about change is that even though we may want it and even seek it out, we still have difficulty letting go of familiar ways; they are what we are used to and have become comfortable with. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon. Even when we are trying to change a habit that we know is bad, like biting our nails or cracking our knuckles in public, we find ourselves repeating the behavior because it brings some kind of satisfaction experiencing the familiar ritual.
Habit is as strong a force as any, and it takes openness, awareness, learning, practice, resolve, and even guts to affect change.
When we endeavor to change our speech or voice patterns or some aspect of our communication style, it forces us to re-evaluate our identity and way of being.
Vocal presence work requires a person to recognize bad habits and to learn and integrate new ones. It involves exploring breath (the life force and energy source for speech) in a new way, body (the instrument through which our sound and words are shaped), and sound (how we connect our breath with this instrument). It is physical, emotional, and some would even say spiritual. A person may learn to use their voice in ways they didn’t know they were capable of, or re-discover parts of themselves that maybe have been shelved away for a long time.
Hearing yourself speak and communicate in new ways can be absolutely thrilling and invigorating. It can also be a little scary. It involves releasing old identities, stories, and habits. People discover an expanded range of sounds and expression, and are free to use and integrate a wider variety of colors and textures into their expression that more authentically reflect who they are. They also learn how to better access and use the correct voice for the particular job it needs to do.
We all face obvious transitions, like taking on a new role professionally. But the truth is, we are constantly transitioning and developing. Our roles and self-concepts are continually changing. And people get stuck. With regards to self-expression, the issue can become profound and deep, affecting one’s life professionally, socially, and psychologically.
The truth is, many people I work with seem to have gotten stuck at some point or another with a voice pattern they have cobbled together over a lifetime of experiences. In the same way people sometimes need a physical makeover, my clients often need a communication makeover. You know what I mean if you’ve ever seen someone who still dresses the way they did 10 or 15 years ago, or still has the same hair style they wore years ago. Perhaps they are still talking the way they did when they were a sorority sister. Or, perhaps a person has been pushing their voice way down in an attempt to sound more authoritative-or for a different reason-they are pushing down/suppressing their self expression. Each human has a unique history, story, and connection to their voice and speech.
Along with change comes the ego’s job of trying to keep you just the same as you were yesterday. Nervousness and discomfort of sounding a different way is often evident in my clients, especially in the beginning, when new habits haven’t yet replaced the old ones. It is my job to gently guide them as they navigate their journey.
I use many strategies in dealing with my clients’ fear and discomfort with change. We may spend a lot of time exploring the voice and expression through grounding, breath, and body work. In addition, the philosophy I share with my clients is this: Fear will always be there; we can’t change that. What we can do is consciously change our relationship to fear. Tune in to the part of you that is unflappable and calm. The stories and fears contrived by your mind exert much less power when you consistently practice operating outside their influence. Instead of battling or beating fear, which seems to fuel the fear monster even more, quiet the critic in your head by putting it on a starvation diet. Let go of your fascination with fear; don’t make it so special, unique, and incredible.
Practice compassion with the fearful part of you. Think of it as an overzealous watchdog, just trying to make sure you are safe. As Barbara McAffee, another voice practitioner states, “Our psyches can handle only so much growth at a time. Reframing fear as a trusty, though sometimes misguided, guardian can help calm its effects in ways struggling just can’t. It offers one more way to help you recognize that you are not your fear.”
Your fear probably looks a lot like everyone else’s. It’s just not that interesting. Your need and reasons for growth are much more compelling. I think of Mary Oliver asking, in her poem The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Let yourself and the rest of the world benefit from your fear-reined-in endeavors.
Judith Weinman, speech and voice coach at
Accent On Speech in NYC