Communication Error: Why Your Boss Talks to You Like an Animal

Human-chimp communication in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Human-chimp communication in Rise of the Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

Often, our bosses, managers, and political leaders have a very distinct way of speaking. To them, communication is of paramount importance, and many times, they’ve spent considerable amounts of time and effort refining their leadership and communication skills. There’s a lot of science and research that goes into it, too. Far more than most of us realize.

Just look at the way some of our political leaders speak, for example. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — both expert communicators in their own right — have developed a personalized style of speaking and transmitting information over years and years in the public eye. But these people weren’t born with this ability (although some people have a knack for public speaking). It was taught to them. It was developed with time.

And now, we have a little more understanding of the psychology behind it. As it turns out, there’s a sort of “authoritarian charisma” at work. A charisma that can be traced all the way back to our most primal roots.

A study from UCLA’s Voice Center for Medicine and the Arts dug into the speech patterns by four 2016 presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Carly Fiorina. The idea was to get a grasp on the strategies employed by these candidates in terms of voice and speech behaviors or modulations and see what, or if, there were any similarities.

As it turns out, there’s a primal, underlying beat that they all employ to get their messages across — even though those messages vary wildly from individual to individual.

Communication as a tool

Donald Trump at a campaign rally

Donald Trump communicating his message at a rally | Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

“Politicians use their voice as a powerful tool to arouse emotions, express their personality and persuade their audience,” said Rosario Signorello, the lead researcher behind the UCLA study. “My research explores political leaders’ vocal traits and how different cultures define charisma.”

What Signorello found, along with his team at UCLA, was that people who tend to be successful in front of audiences, and subsequently win them over, share vocal tactics. In other words, it’s not so much what these people are saying, but how they’re saying it. By using these psychological sleights against audiences, speakers can actually direct how audiences respond. This is why Donald Trump can say something that many people find abhorrent, and yet, still get huge applause.

The same goes for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.

According to an accompanying press release from UCLA, Signorello and his research team “analyzed audio clips of speeches delivered by high-ranking politicians from Brazil, France, and Italy. In one part of the study, he let research subjects listen to these clips. To assure that study participants responded solely to the politician’s voice and not what was being said, they heard speech excerpts only in languages they did not understand.”

They key? “He found that political speakers used different patterns of speech, depending on whom they were addressing.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd of supporters at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, MN

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd of supporters at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, MN | Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

As for the specifics of the study’s findings, the researchers said that when speakers were in front of audiences comprised of other leaders — at a conference, for example — they employed lower pitch, and a narrow pitch range while speaking. If they were in a one-on-one interview? They tended to relax more, and use a “healthy voice;” a voice that they tend to use naturally.

What the study tells us, spanning across language barriers, is that there is a primal part of our communication that transcends nationalities and borders. It’s primal, in that our leaders rise to the upper crusts of society not necessarily because of what they’re saying, but because of how they’re saying it. It’s behavior that’s been seen in nature, among other primates as well. Scientists plan on studying that further in the future.

Though most of us don’t hear big political leaders speak in person all that often, we do have bosses, managers, perhaps even parents or other family members who assume leadership roles. If you make the effort to listen carefully, you can see the same vocalization techniques at play — and how they may, in fact, be speaking to you through an ancient, evolutionary code.

So, if you ever feel like your boss is speaking to you like you’re a dog, or some kind of animal? You may actually be right.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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