Sometimes I look at the business world and wish that an unpleasant fact wasn't true.

For example, there's no question that most people--at least in the U.S.--think "tall" rather than "short" when they envision a leader. It's not fair, but it's true.

Similarly, people who are physically attractive have a distinct advantage in business over the less genetically blessed. It's not fair, but it's true. 

A couple of years ago, I wrote an April Fools post titled "10 Life Hacks That Really Work." The life hack that got the most attention was:

9. Become taller and more attractive.

Surveys show that short and unattractive people face many extra challenges in the workplace. Who needs that?

The point, of course, was that it's unfair to expect people to change things that are part of their genetics. All kidding aside, though, there are three things--huge potential business advantages--that people can change:

  1. How clearly you communicate.
  2. How well you dress.
  3. How authoritative you sound.

Obviously, being able to write and present with eloquence is a huge business advantage. And since no child is born eloquent, this is a learned skill that anyone can learn and cultivate.

Similarly, if you truly want to be successful, you'll need to "Dress for Success." Although the standard has changed since that classic book was written (a visible tattoo is apparently no longer a no-no), the basic principle remains.

Most people in business take pains to become better communicators and invest in a wardrobe that matches the role they'd like to play. What's far less common, though, is paying attention to the effect the tonality (pitch and accent) of your voice has on others.

Which is where Elizabeth Holmes comes in.

Holmes is catching a lot of flak for lowering the pitch of her voice from an alto to a baritone and eschewing the vocal fry and end-of-sentence uptick that's endemic to her generation of females.

Just to be clear, women shouldn't be expected to lower their voices and avoid traditionally "female" vocal habits. In an ideal world, tonality wouldn't matter. The sad fact remains that tonality is a big deal. It's not fair, but it's true.

That being the case, Holmes was clever to alter her voice to sound more like Lauren Bacall and less like Lindsay Lohan. Her "fake" voice sounded more authoritative, probably because it sounded a bit masculine, which was probably the point.

Even though the need to do so is entirely, 100 percent unfair, businesspeople with high-pitched voices (men, too) are well advised to lower their pitch to sound more authoritative. I did exactly that myself some years ago by learning to speak in my throat rather than my nose.

So, if you're serious about being successful, you should obviously hone your communication skills and dress appropriately. And you should also lower your voice if it's high-pitched and eliminate any credibility-killing tics. 

Note: After I wrote this post (which is meant to be taken seriously), it occurred to me how funny it would be if everybody came to work tomorrow morning sounding like 10-year-olds trying to imitate adults during a prank call.

So just to be entirely clear: Don't overdo it.

Published on: Mar 22, 2019
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