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When You Up-Talk, I Want to Punch You in the Face

Women too often have a problem with up-talking.  I’ve seen it in my fellow law students and nationally recognized speakers.  It is nails on a chalkboard to me.  It is so distracting that the last time it happened at an event, I stopped taking notes on the content and started counting the number of times the speaker was up-talking.

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For those of you who do not recognize the term “up-talking,” it is the inappropriate raising of one’s tone of voice – most commonly occurring in women.  It is also referred to as Valley-girlism.  When you ask a question, your voice is supposed to go up when you reach the question mark.  If your voice goes up when you reach a comma or period, that’s up-talking.  Alyson Hannigan’s character from American Pie is the epitome of up-talking: This one time, at band camp. . . .

Why do women up-talk?  Is it an extension of women’s need to be perceived as nice?  Is it an overreaction to a fear of being perceived as demanding?  A bitch?  I do not know what the reason behind up-talking is, but the effects of this habit are profound.

Women, when you up-talk it sounds like you’re constantly asking question and seeking validation.  At best, you sound unsure of yourself.  At worst, you sound like an airhead.  It is unprofessional and ineffective.  And it’s obnoxious – so stop it.

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Dr. Lois P. Frankel wrote a brilliant book for women: Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers. It is a must-read for every young professional woman.  She provides wonderful information for women regarding how they act, look, sound, and market themselves.  When it comes to up-talking, she says that women’s ideas are more likely to be discounted when they use a higher than natural pitch.

Shelley Jack made a great observation: “One reason why Americans think the British sound so smart is because the language is delivered with a stronger tone of certainty.  Even questions can somehow come off sounding like well-crafted, thoughtful sentences.”

If you wonder if you up-talk, ask someone you trust.  Remember that what you say is as important as how you say it.  Speak with purpose.

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  1. Keenan says:

    That girl can “up talk” me all night long

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Oh Keenan…you’re such a dirty old man…but you already knew that.

  2. Adam says:

    I don’t think British people sound smart…. 😉

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I don’t know about all Brits, but you’re definitely among the most brilliant ones that I know. The rest may just be good at making us think they’re smart.

  3. John says:

    I think that people who say “you know” while speaking is right along side of up-talking!!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Yes! People who excessively use “you know,” “like,” and “m-kay” are annoying too. I had a teacher in undergrad who said “m-kay” over 100 times in a 50 minute class. It became a game for us to count the number of times she said it during each class.

  4. Thank you for your kind words and for mentioning my book, Ruth! A few other communication no-no’s — using too many words to soften your message, asking permission, apologizing. My latest book, co-authored with Carol Frohlinger, NICE GIRLS JUST DON’T GET IT, will be out on April 19th and is available for preorder now. Thanks again!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thank you for your advice and congrats on the new book! I look forward to reading it.