Speak Softly

“Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

 

Do you ever raise your voice?

There are people who are always loud talkers, and there are times of excitement when everyone’s voice tends to be elevated — seeing an old friend, getting good news, or seeing a mouse. There are other times people seem to think that speaking loudly will better deliver their message, though, and can actually have the opposite effect. That was the problem Roosevelt seemed to find when he shared his advice about speaking softly, and it is worth listening to ourselves and to others to see the difference the volume makes.

If I yell, it is so someone I think is in another part of the house can hear me. It’s a little embarrassing, of course, when I discover they are in the next room. Being loud isn’t really necessary most of the time in life, yet so many of us seem to think we must elevate our voices in order to amplify our messages.

We don’t have to elevate to amplify.

It just isn’t necessary to be loud to get our point across, but most humans haven’t learned that lesson, and many find it hard to believe being quieter is more effective in delivering their message. The two questions to which I seem to continue to return are: 1) Why are we loud? and 2)What would speaking softly and carrying a big stick look like? How do we put it into action?

  1. This is not an attempt to make anyone feel ashamed of being loud but to help all of us see the valid reasons some folks don’t need a megaphone.
    a) Some people are loud because they’ve been that way all their lives. It could be a part of their body — large larynx and vocal cords. Some people were raised in families where if you wanted to be heard, you had to be loud. And some of those people like being loud because it draws attention to them — they might not even realize that’s why they do it.
    b) Some people are loud because they are so afraid of not being heard. They feel they won’t get their point across if they don’t elevate their voice. Insecurity (fear) can push people to over-project.
  2. It would look amazing — just ask some of the best teachers. My degree is in Elementary Education, but it wasn’t until my older son was in Kindergarten that I was taught the power of the quiet voice. I was mesmerized watching this one woman, without threats or assistance from any bodyguards, quiet a room of 25 5-year-olds. She never raised her voice. Ever. I’ve been studying the power of a quieter voice ever since.
    a) Listen as much as you talk.
    b) Let go of the need to be right
    c) Practice speaking passionately and quietly
    d) Walk away when you can tell a conversation is about to get heated. You are allowed to excuse yourself while you regain your composure.

It’s about being intentional with our choices — some of the most important things we do in life are just that.

If you are an American reading this, it might sadden you to know that we have a bad reputation abroad. It’s such a problem that in 2006, the State Department and the business industry joined together to create guides for how Americans should behave in other countries. The upside of this if you are a loud, obnoxious person? It isn’t just you. The downside if you are a loud, obnoxious person? You’re part of the problem.

Reading a book recently (and I’m sorry to say I don’t know which one just this minute), the author’s words about all of our differences of opinion on the environment, politics, and religion (pretty much everything) really struck me.

People are loud in hopes of getting someone to hear them.
They are afraid that if they aren’t loud enough, their words will not be heard, and their truth will be washed away under the waves of others’ words.

The truth is, though, that instead of hearing you, people are tuning you (and me) out.

Think about issues that rile you or that you are passionate about, and how you approach the topic with other people. It doesn’t matter on which side you find yourself, everyone is being loud.

  • You think the company should downsize and have good reasons to support your opinion.

  • Your workers are scared of losing their income and benefits and are at least equally loud about ways they believe you could keep them and lower costs.

  • Your neighbor thinks everyone should be using The Bug Guy, but you are partial to The Bug Man.

Yelling back and forth won’t convince anyone.

Look back at Point 2 above — listen to the other party, let go of the need to prove you’re right, practice speaking quietly about issues, and walk away if you can see you aren’t going to be able to keep your voice down. The company needs you to be level-headed, the students need to hear your calm voice, and your friends and foes will only turn a deaf ear to your loud railing, so why not give speaking softly a try? As long as we’re following his advice, maybe we should carry a big stick — just in case.

 

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