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It’s normal to hate your voice

But you don’t have to

If you’ve ever listened to your voice on a recording and your first reaction was disgust, you aren’t alone. The most common reaction to hearing your own voice is revulsion or disbelief, and there are solid reasons for why that is.

Given most of us aren’t radio DJs or TV personalities, we are rarely exposed to our own voice — we will hear it on a voicemail or video every now and then, cringe, and moved on. The rare instances where it does come up are nearly always a surprise.

It’s easy enough to avoid the sound of our own voice, but there are many situations in which a recording of you is a valuable learning tool or resource. Recording your meetings will lead to more productive days for you and your co-workers, for example, and listening to a recording of yourself presenting will help you pinpoint ways to improve your speaking habits.

Being able to avoid the initial aversion to our own voice would be helpful, but learning to stop hating your own voice is not an easy task.

What’s going on with my voice?

The why of ‘why is that how I sound’ is the easy part. Like everything relating to sound, the reasons are in the vibrations and in your ears.

When you speak, all the vibrations from your vocal chords bounce around in your skull and pass through many different filters before you actually hear it. Dr. Kleinberger explains that voices go through 4 different phases of filtering before you have a chance to hear it yourself. These filters are biological, neurological, and mechanical. When the sound comes out, you hear something no one else does. Everyone else is hearing your outward voice, while you’re hearing your filtered, inward voice.

The result is that your voice sounds deeper in your head. Once you know that, it’s not always easy to reconcile the fact that no one else hears what you do. Not only that, there are solid reasons for why people want their voices to sound deeper, one of which is that deeper voices are seen as more competent. Learning that your voice is a higher pitch than you thought can cause a clash with your perceived vocal identity and the voice people actually hear.

You’re not alone, though; no one’s reaction to their recorded voice is flattering at first. Studies on whether or not you can even recognize your own voice range wildly in terms of the numbers — anywhere from only 38% to nearly 96% — but they all confirm one thing: when you know that it’s your voice, you probably don’t like it.

What can I do about it?

While it’s normal to hate your voice when you hear it, it doesn’t have to always be that way. There are things you can do to either adjust your voice or your perception of it. While it’s possible they won’t get you to the point of loving your voice, you can at least work towards making it bearable to listen to.

Remember those studies about people disliking their voice when they know it’s theirs? Well, there’s a fascinating twist: when you don’t know the voice you’re listening to is your own, you’re more likely to prefer it above others. A 2013 study by researchers at Albright College has shown that you do like your voice, you just don’t like that it isn’t the voice you’re used to.

The simplest method for dealing with this clash is to get used to it. It’s jarring to learn that any part of your personal identity isn’t what you expected it to be, and that’s why you react to your voice so negatively. Other people don’t know what the voice in your head is, so they’re not comparing it to anything — and if that study is anything to go on, you probably have a great voice that you’d like on anyone else. Keeping this in mind, listen to your recorded voice regularly and you’ll eventually get used to it and maybe even grow to like it.

Image © Kyle Smith

If, however, you decide you want your voice to sound to others like it sounds to yourself, you can work to change it.

While a vocal coach is the most professional way to get some help modulating your vocal chords, they’re also expensive and intensive for anyone who just wants to be able to listen to a recorded meeting without cringing. There are a number of exercises you can do at home instead of hiring someone to train your voice. By working to strengthen your vocal chords and gain more control over your voice, you can modulate it to be how you want it to sound — essentially, you’re going to start thinking of your voice as an instrument that needs to be tuned and consciously altered as you talk.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because you have a negative reaction to your voice doesn’t mean that other people do. You can put hours into learning to manually speak differently but cringing through a few hours of your own voice is a faster solution. There are no bad voices, just voices to be accepted. The more you listen to your voice, the more it will become a voice like any other you hear during your day.

Image © Neil Godding

My voice, meet myself

It’s nearly a universal fact of the human condition: we hate our voices. It’s not uncommon for even singers and voice actors, people who are regularly exposed to their own voice, to hate it. Three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Eric Clapton, is even on record saying that he hates the sound of his own voice. Proving that it doesn’t matter how much other people say they enjoy your voice, the disconnect between how you hear yourself and how other’s hear you will always be a jarring discovery.

We are lucky, then, that this discomfort only has to be temporary, because you can’t deny the benefits of recording yourself, especially at work. Recording your meetings improves accountability, encourages open communication, and frees up your mind to contribute instead of focusing on taking notes. By building an archive of your meetings and personal notes, you can vastly improve your productivity, because everything you need to know is always at your fingertips in its original form. Or maybe it will help give you the confidence to start that podcast you’ve been thinking about.

Falling in love, or at least in non-hate, with your real voice will only make your life easier as recorded audio becomes more and more popular. As technology continues to move towards voice recognition and more people understand the benefits of capturing brainstorm sessions or lectures, the chances of hearing your voice will continue to climb. So brace yourself for some surprises, but remember that those initial feelings of disgust won’t last forever.

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