July 14, 2024


Business Woman

Uptalk – What it is and Why You Don’t Ever Want to Do it!

Uptalk – What it is and Why You Don’t Ever Want to Do it!

Carol doesn’t understand why no one seems to take her ideas seriously in business meetings

Sophie complains that every time she makes a suggestion in an Executive meeting the idea gets tossed around until finally some ‘guy’ says the same thing she did and is congratulated for his contribution.

Both of these women experience similar difficulties. They are not given credit for their ideas. One of the biggest causes of women not being taken seriously is the use of ‘Uptalk’ when speaking.

In English, the use of a question mark at the end of a sentence indicates that the sender is asking a question. The speaker therefore raises their inflection at the end of the statement. It is this upward inflection, or lilt, that lets the receiver know that we are asking them something; that we are looking for a response from them.

Uptalk occurs when we inject that same upward inflection at the end of our sentences, rather than inflecting downward, as we should when we read a period. This upward inflection takes our definitive statements and softens them, making them sound as if we are asking a question or looking for approval. The use of uptalk is one of the most common elements undermining women’s credibility with men around the boardroom table.

Consider the impact of uptalk on the following statements. I’ve inserted question marks in parenthesis to indicate where the inflection rises and exclamation points to indicate where the inflection should fall. Practice saying these out loud to ‘hear’ the impact that the uptalk has.

With uptalk: It’s a nice day today(?)
Without uptalk: It’s a nice day today(!)

In the first example, your inflection rises at the end of the statement, making it sound as if you are unsure of whether the day is, in fact, nice or not. Certainly it makes you sound more hesitant and less confident. The second statement however clearly lets others know how you feel about the day. Although this is a simplistic example, the following is an excerpt from an introduction given by a woman in one of my training sessions. Try to follow the upward inflection indicated by the arrows above the phrases and read it out loud. Again, I have inserted question marks to indicate where Susan’s inflection rose as she was delivering her introduction.

Hi(?), my name is Susan(?). I’m the Manager(?) of Information Services(?) for a large Telecommunications company(?)

In this example, you can see that uptalk can occur much more frequently than simply at the end of a sentence. Often people’s sentences are punctuated with uptalk throughout, making it a stronger message. Susan’s use of uptalk made her seem very hesitant and unsure of herself. In fact, it seemed that she should have pulled out a business card to verify that, in fact, her name was Susan as well as her title and employer! If this is the effect that the use of uptalk has on simple, very direct, very definitive statements, is it any wonder that women’s ideas, when presented with uptalk, are often overlooked or ignored?

Women often develop uptalk early in life in an effort to ‘play nice’. Young girls learn early to soften their orders and directions to others by using uptalk. They sound less directing and controlling, less ‘bossy’, and therefore will still be allowed into other little girls’ play circles.

Little boys, on the other hand, will give very direct orders during play, without alienating other boys in the process. It seems that boys are more open to having other boys displaying leadership traits, without any hard feelings or animosity arising, while girls take it as a personal affront when another girl attempts to do so.

In a recent Women in Business networking event I attended, each woman was given two minutes to introduce themselves and their businesses. I was astounded as I listened to these women. Easily 75% of the women present uptalked their way through their personal introductions. They sounded hesitant and ineffectual!

If you find that your statements seem to lack credibility or conviction, that your ideas are lacking strength, take the time to listen to yourself on tape. Listen for the uptalk. Once you train your ear to identify it, you will be amazed at how easily you can begin to control it. You cannot change what you cannot identify though, so get out that tape-recorder and start taping! We have had many past training participants come back to us and say that learning to hear and control their uptalk was one of the biggest contributors to their ongoing success in business. As one participant shared “I can’t believe that such a seemingly small element had such a major impact on how I was perceived. Once I began working to eliminate my uptalk the change in others perception was almost instantaneous. What’s funny is that others knew something was different about me but couldn’t put their finger on what it was. My boss kept asking who lit the fire under me!”