Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/
A bit over a year ago, our little family unit bought a dog. Fluffy. I fell in love immediately, which isn’t difficult when you look into those soulful eyes.
That was the problem; if I didn’t learn something about doggy discipline, fluffy’s charm would soon be training me. So I read 3 or 4 books on doggy training recommended by my daughter who is fascinated by such things. What I of course first noticed is that Fluff not only reacted to gestures and body language, but also VERY strongly to the subtle and not-so-subtle tonalities of the voice. And not only in his trainers. He seemed wired to hear stress, fear, dominance, hesitancy and passive-aggression in all humans. I’ve read in the doggy training books about the dangers of Anthropomorphism; the giving of human characteristics to non-human entities. I’ve also read a good amount of research into how dogs and humans have evolved together over centuries. I’m open to the possibility that there’s more going on here than just my overactive, anthropomorphic imagination.
One thing was certain, I could use my voice to get Fluffy to do what I wanted him to do. This was a repeatable phenomenon. It wasn’t long before I was noticing even more how this same phenomenon occurs between humans as well. Everyone’s heard the word “Manipulation” and has a sense that it’s usually used negatively, referring to something undesirable. What’s the difference, I asked myself, between “Manipulation”, in its most negative connotations, and “Influencing”? I think it has to do with how we perceive change. I found this change model to be very helpful:
Change for MYSELF – Change for YOU – Change for US – Change for IT
If it’s clear, for example, that someone you care about is making a polite request, or putting on the pressure, or trying to manipulate you or even making a threat or ultimatum, then you have a clear choice. It’s the clarity that’s important. Change for yourself or Change for me. If you get the sense that someone is telling you to change for yourself, but behind it is obviously a motivation like; this will make MY life easier, or make me look better or give me a sense of power, you’re less likely to flow into the change. I believe this is crucial in any kind of teaching or coaching situation. Let me give you an example; a LONG time ago I was in the Houston Opera Studio. It was a great experience for a very young tenor. I was surrounded by ultra-talented individuals and some truly great names in opera. Each one of them, all my coaches and mentors, had a unique standpoint. Part of the studio education was audition training. I had a teacher there, at least 4 internationally acclaimed repertoire coaches, 3 stage directors, a famous composer, the head conductor and the general manager. Each of them wanted something slightly (and sometimes not so slightly) different. Each of them had an axe to grind and I was the axe. Artistic decisions became political decisions. I learned a lot that season. One of the important lessons was just this “Change” consciousness, the distinction between Change for Myself and Change for You. One felt like unwanted pressure, like negative manipulation, the other felt like positive Influence.
The congruence and clarity of this distinction is clear in the varied messages the tonal quality of the voice carries. These qualities have enormous power to influence others. Inherent frequency, prosody, medial compression, tempo, volume, rhythm, pressure emphasis and more all have a distinctly conveyed message. We recognize this (there are neurological disturbances which preclude the development of this sense), whether consciously, pre-consciously or unconsciously. It’s the source of that vague sense of incongruence we get sometimes. This is easy to demonstrate and a bit more difficult to describe. Try this; say the following sentence twice (“I really enjoyed that meal. Thanks for the invitation.”), the first time with mild sarcasm and the second time with genuine sincerity. Notice the melody of your voice, the emphasis, the different pressure. It becomes obvious how we say one thing and “mean” another. Now multiply that couple of times. Is it possible to hear sincerity, sadness, aggression and hopelessness in the same sentence? I believe so. If you acknowledge as well that this is possible, tune into the different aspects of the tonal expression and make it conscious. Singers admittedly have a leg up here. Actors do as well. Yet we all use our voice and we can all become more and more conscious of its power. What I find even more exciting is that we can all train the tonal aspects of our communication to become ever more emotionally transparent and authentic. It’s at once humbling and exhilarating that I learned this from my dog!
Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/