employee pronounces everything as a question, I goofed off at work and now I’m paranoid, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employee pronounces everything as a question

One of my new hires has a habit of raising her voice and drawing out the end of a sentence as if it’s a question. Aside from this annoying me, I worry that she’s confusing clients and coming across as lacking confidence. e.g., telling a client “You can’t raise the teapot spout because it’s against regulationnns?” feels unprofessional to me because it sounds like she’s deferring to them or is unsure, but it’s our job to advise on these things.

I’m not sure if my own annoyance at this tic is clouding my judgement. Clients haven’t commented on it (though why would they?), and I’m aware that it’s a fairly widespread way of speaking in other countries. We’re in the UK and as far as I know she’s always lived here. Personally I associate the tic with naivete but maybe that’s just my problem, and I don’t want to be sexist or make her feel judged for something she can’t change. However, since it seems more frequent in discussions she’s less certain about, I’m considering suggesting she should just give herself a second to think the answer through or tell the client she’ll get back to them, rather than saying something that’s ambiguous.

So is this worth addressing? Do I name the problem or just coach her on speaking confidently?

Yes, address it! It’s making her sound unsure, and that’s bad for her professionally and bad for your clients, who want to feel like she knows what she’s talking about (or that if she doesn’t, she’ll find out, not just leave them with a question hanging in the air). And it’s very much something she can change if she’s aware she’s doing it.

Definitely do name the issue — don’t dance around it. It’s going to be much easier for her to solve if you tell her clearly what she should be doing differently. Just be straightforward! For example: “I’ve noticed that when you make a statement, you often drag out the end of the last word and raise your pitch a bit, in a way that makes it sound like you’re asking a question rather than making a clear, definite statement. Putting a verbal question mark at the end of sentences can make you come across as unsure about what you’re saying, especially when you’re talking to clients. Can you work on making sure you’re speaking confidently rather than questioningly? Of course, when you’re actually not sure, it’s fine to say that and say that you’ll find the answer and come back to the person. The issue is just making statements that sound uncertain, since then that leaves the person you’re talking to not confident about what you just said.”

2. I web surfed at work for a day and now I’m paranoid

I had a week with very little work to do and did something I’m embarrassed about. I spent an entire day surfing the net on my work computer and did no work. The next day I had my usual 1:1 with my manager and she seemed serious and reserved and asked me if I was okay. She also asked if I really only had one active project and I confirmed she was correct but that I’m on deck to take our next request. I asked to spend time on a new task, which she approved, and her demeanor improved a bit.

Luckily more work came in and I have a good amount to do now. Later that week, we had a team work session and at one point my boss’ boss patted me on the back and said, “See, you CAN be productive!” I hadn’t said anything to the contrary to him, but I had complained to a coworker over a company chat system that these sessions weren’t productive time for me (lots of distractions). Now I’m wondering if my web surfing raised IT flags and they’ve been reviewing my communications. Am I being paranoid? I’ve never done something so unprofessional before and now I’m worried my one instance of it will ruin me – they’ve used employees’ misuse of company software as pretext to fire people who just got on their bad side in the past and I’m worried that I’ve just set myself up for something similar.

It’s possible, yes. It’s also possible that you were feeling guilty and/or paranoid about your day of web surfing, and that’s making you interpret people’s comments through that lens. Or, it’s possible that you really have been less productive lately (and that your day of web surfing was part of that but not all of it) and that your manager had picked up on your lower productivity in general.

There’s no way to know which of these it is … but no matter which it is, you can almost certainly recover from it if you focus on being highly productive now (and stay that way for a good long while). Everyone has off days. Hell, most people have off weeks. But if you buckle down now, you can probably get past it.

(Also, your boss’s boss’s comment was weirdly patronizing, regardless of the situation!)

3. My boss is overloading me with work

I work at a small business—I am one of two full-time employees—that hasn’t been doing well financially. I’ve worked here three years, most of them as department manager, with a salary under $50K. I like most aspects of my job, so none of this bothered me until recently.

I have many skills that are outside of my job title: basic coding, graphic design, and photography. None of those skills should strictly come into use during my job, but because we’re a small team with lots to accomplish, I’ve ended up using them now and again. Recently, my boss asked me how I could incorporate more photography into my job. I told her that I’d have to think about which department tasks to delegate in order to make the time for it. Shortly after that conversation, she told clients that I could produce all of the photography for a large project.

I feel she gave no consideration for what I had said to her, and no thought to the ways this would affect my everyday work. I’ve been coming in early and staying late every night to get everything done (something I’m not opposed to doing, but at this rate, it’s exhausting).

I don’t want to come across like I’m not a team player, but I feel burned out, disrespected, and nervous about a possible future where even more is asked of me. I’m not sure how to approach my boss about it given that she’s already promised the service to our clients, and this project is critical for our company to make money. But I feel taken advantage of, especially since I’m not being compensated more for adding this project onto an already full plate of work. What do you think my next steps should be?

You had the right idea originally, when you told her you’d need to figure out what you could delegate to make room for it! That was exactly right, because the situation is not supposed to be “work around the clock when new projects come your way,” but rather “if something is a high priority, we bump other things back so there’s room for it.” Stick to that now. As in: “If I take this on, I’d need to push X and Y back to the spring and probably can’t do Z at all. Does that work for you?”

If she indicates she’s hoping you’ll just find a way to get it all done, then say this: “I’ve been working much longer hours to try to make that work, but it’s clear to me now that it won’t and that that’s not sustainable anyway. I had full-time work before this, and this is an enormous new project on top of this. So — does pushing back X and Y and eliminating Z work for you, or should we pick different projects to take off my plate?” Say this matter-of-factly, like of course this is how it needs to be handled (since this is in fact the way it’s supposed to be done).

Frankly, you could also add that typically you charge a much higher fee for photography work and say that if she wants to make it part of your job, you’d want to revisit your salary … but in a two-person business, it’s pretty normal for your work responsibilities to be all over the map.

4. Should I remove my graduation date from my resume?

I find myself in a bit of a conundrum over my resume. I went back to college after several years of working (project management and skilled labor supervision, so still useful to have on my resume). Since I was older when I went back to school, if one would look at my graduation date, they would assume I’m quite a bit younger than I am. For reference, my resume reaches back to 2001 and I graduated college in 2010.

Now that my job searches are focused on management and leadership positions, knocking a decade off my assumed age isn’t necessarily the best thing. Should I remove the graduation date? My cover letters usually briefly touch on my return to school and the industry change that went along with it.

It’s really common these days to leave your graduation year off your resume altogether if you’re past a certain age. It used to be that candidates were advised to start doing that around 40, but I see tons of candidates these days start it any time after 30ish. After a certain point, no one really cares what your exact year of graduation was unless it was recent.

That said, if you’re making your return to school a focal point on your resume, in your particular case it might make sense to leave the year on there. Either way, they’re not going to assume you’re 29 if your work experience goes back to 2001.

(That said, you also don’t need to include your entire work history. Just including the last 10-15 years is fine and normal, so if you wanted to knock off some of those earlier jobs, you could do that too, especially if they’re not particularly relevant to what you’re doing now.)

5. Enthusiastic recruiter keeps promising an interview that doesn’t happen

A little over a month ago, I applied for a position at a start-up. Two days later, the recruiter contacted me for an in-person interview for the following day. The interview went really well and she immediately introduced me to the VP (this was unscheduled). They said they wanted to fill the position within the month. At the recruiter’s suggestion, I checked in with her the following week via text. She said they were scheduling the final round interviews for the end of the following week and “I definitely want you there.”

A week goes by and I don’t hear anything, so I follow up about scheduling my final interview. Again, she’s very encouraging (“I’m so glad you texted!!!!”) but says they’ve had to delay the interviews to the following week due to the VP’s schedule. Yet another week goes by with no contact from her, so I follow up again. She says she has a meeting with the VP within the next day or two and I am “top of the list!!” And now another week has gone by with no outreach from her.

I’m extremely frustrated at the lack of communication, and normally I would assume it means they’re not interested, but she has been so openly affirming. At this point it’s been one month since my first interview, with weekly follow-ups all initiated by me. I was really excited about this position because it would be a great opportunity to get in early at a growing company in a new industry, with crazy earnings potential down the road. But this experience is leaving a really bad taste in my mouth. Is it possible that she’s stringing me along, and why would she do that? Or are they just the least organized people I’ve ever encountered? I don’t want to totally shut the door on this one, because again, the future earnings potential would be incredible, but if I really was such an amazing “top of the list” candidate, I would think that they’d be moving a lot faster with me before I get snatched up by another company. I’m in the final stage of interviewing at another company, so is it worth following up with the first one again, even just to mention if/when I get an offer?

Well, I’d stop with the follow-ups. She knows you’re interested, and she’s told you that she’ll get back to you when they’re ready to move forward. It’s in her court now.

It’s unlikely that she’s just stringing you along. Hiring nearly always takes longer than it’s expected to, and it sounds like she’s very much at the mercy of the VP’s schedule, and that schedule may be packed with higher priorities. There could be a dozen things going on there right now that are more urgent or important, and the recruiter isn’t necessarily in a position to know that or communicate the details.

I also wouldn’t assume they’re terribly disorganized; this stuff just tends to drag out. And the reality is that “you’re at the top of our list!” just means “you seem like a strong candidate,” not “we probably want to hire you and thus we will expedite our process to ensure we don’t lose you.”

The best thing you can do in this situation is always to move on, put it out of your mind, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do get back in touch — although there’s no harm in letting her know that you have an offer, once you do.

{ 474 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ramona Flowers

    #1 This isn’t sexist or judgemental because it’s not personal – it’s just about the way she’s doing one aspect of her work. So you don’t need to have her feelings for her.

    I think suggesting she pauses to think is a great idea and I’d suggest she actually practises that before trying to do it in the moment.

    Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      I was coming here to comment on a similar vein. Many studies now confirm that managers withhold corrections for female employees that they give to male employees. That means that the women are held back by their blind spots while the men can remove them.
      It’s actually sexist to not tell her about this issue. People will lose faith in you if they hear you questioning yourself all the time. That means you can’t lead.

      Reply
      1. JamieS

        Agreed. I think if a manager’s unsure of whether something is sexist to address they should ask themselves “would I bring this up if employee were a (insert opposite gender here). If the answer is yes then address it. If the answer is no then probably don’t address it and do some self reflection. Not a perfect approach since some things do vary between genders such as wearing dresses to work in an office with a conservative dress code. However I think it’s a good general rule of thumb/guideline.

        Reply
      2. OP#1

        Thanks. The comments get to the heart of what I was wondering: is this an inherently female speech pattern which should gain greater acceptance, or a symptom of the sexism women grow up with. Reading responses from women is reassuring me that addressing it is fine.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          Anecdatum: in Bill Bryson’s book on Australia, from about 2000, he comments on this speech pattern as a young person thing driving old persons round the bed. He didn’t mind it, in the context of a pleasant young waitress seemingly expressing doubt about the entire menu, but it wasn’t going to be a plus outside of contexts where “what a sweet little thing” is an okay impression to leave.

          I think it is a female speech pattern, or more broadly an appeasing one that reflects it being your job to smooth the rough edges off all social situations. It’s a bad habit if that isn’t literally your job. (Many teachers are women, but can you envision a sixth grade teacher saying “Class? It’s time to get out your workbooks? And turn to page 58?”

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          1. Undercover today

            Eh, I’ve heard plenty of men do it too – even my beloved pocasters on Vox’s “The Weeds” from time to time. When I started my first professional job out of college, we were all trained to get the “California upspeak” out of our inflection. This was for both women and men, and from both Coasts.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              The NYT article I link to downthread interestingly notes that there’s a situational gender difference in its use, too–it’s more associated with authority in women than in men.

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              1. NorthernSoutherner

                I’ve heard more women speaking this way than men. I consider it a tic or a vocal habit that can be fixed once the person has been made aware. Because it can be off-putting? And make you sound 14?

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            2. SS

              When someone does the upspeak to me (male or female), I address it directly by asking “Was that a statement or a question?” each time so they are aware how this is coming across.

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              1. fposte

                Assuming you mean with your staff, I think it’s more effective to explicitly address the concern. If you’re talking with pupils, however, you get freer rein to take a more “I don’t know; can you?” approach :-).

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              2. Oryx

                That seems unnecessarily antagonistic, although as fposte points out if you’re speaking to students I suppose there’s more flexibility in taking that approach.

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              3. Static

                That’s a great strategy, especially when speaking to people you have no authority to correct (from your manager to the barista at Starbucks). If it’s your staff you can be more direct I think but I like your way of getting it across and seeing if it resolves itself, if not you can go to directly addressing it (or straight to that if it’s constant and concerning).

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  If we’re talking people you don’t have authority over, though, this seems on a par with correcting their grammar to me. Unless you genuinely don’t understand, I don’t think it’s appropriate to make points about their speech.

                2. Anon for a min

                  As a former barista, someone with no authority over me Making A Point about the way I speak would be a very good way to ensure their drink was made with decaf.

                3. Static

                  Yes, former barista here too. And if a customer had to actually ask if I was telling or asking them it’d be an extra 50p for a shot of syrup I’d much rather know my vocal tics were having that affect than go on sounding unclear and potentially unconfident in the future! It’s entirely possible most people don’t realise they’re doing it.

            3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

              Yeah, I associate it with a western accent and/or a certain kind of liberal arts student. When I was an under graduate it seemed to become oddly trendy to speak like that (along with phrasing statements and complaints as questions, like “could you be more annoying?”). I didn’t know anyone who did that in high school but when I got to the liberal arts college (in the same city!) everyone seemed to talk like that.

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          2. Specialk9

            It’s worth mentioning that Bill Bryson finds MANY things irritating. At his best he’s sardonically witty; at his worst he ranges from grumpy old man to raging a-hole. Good thing he’s so *interesting* and more often at his best.

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          3. Else

            Hah, student and new teachers especially often DO do that, and then they utterly fail at classroom management. Which is a pretty big indicator of someone who will burnout or leave the teaching profession within a year or three.

            Reply
          4. BeautifulVoid

            I think it is a female speech pattern, or more broadly an appeasing one that reflects it being your job to smooth the rough edges off all social situations. It’s a bad habit if that isn’t literally your job. (Many teachers are women, but can you envision a sixth grade teacher saying “Class? It’s time to get out your workbooks? And turn to page 58?”

            Haha, funny you should say this, because upon reading this letter, I was immediately transported back almost 15 years to when I had a male college professor speak EXACTLY like this. “Okay, so let’s open our textbooks to page 58? I want to go over the chapter on professional rice sculpting? And I brought in one of my favorite rice sculptures to show you today? I hope you love it as much as I do?”

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          5. Gadfly

            I think while both men and women use it, it does get perceived differently between them and that generally the higher cost is born by women (with that pressure to be appeasing and non-threatening). Some damned if you do and damned if you don’t going on.

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        2. Luna

          I would be careful exactly how you address the issue, and also realize that it takes time for people to change the way they talk, so don’t keep bringing it up if she doesn’t change it right away. She probably already knows she does it to some extent but just can’t always control it.

          Since you say that she does this more often in conversations when she is unsure about the answer, it might not be so much a verbal tic as that she IS unsure. You might also want to think about why that is. Does she not actually know the answer? Or is she not sure that she has the authority to give the client a final answer in certain situations?

          As someone who has a boss who is an extreme micro-manager, my co-workers and I probably talk like this often because we never know when our boss will allow us to respond in meetings instead of wanting to respond herself, or whether she will agree with the exact way we frame our answer, etc. It comes across as us sounding incompetent when really our boss is always sending us mixed signals and conflicting instructions. I’m not saying that you do this! But it might be worth considering why she might actually be unsure of the answers or her authority to give them if she has been there long enough that she should know by now.

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      3. Specialk9

        “Many studies now confirm that managers withhold corrections for female employees that they give to male employees. That means that the women are held back by their blind spots while the men can remove them.
        It’s actually sexist to not tell her about this issue.”

        I had no idea. Thanks for educating me! I love the commentariat here, I learn so much.

        Reply
    2. Koko

      I think the reason OP is worried about the appearance sexism is because this verbal pattern is almost exclusively and commonly used by young women. And there are definitely some feminists you could find who would rail about how it’s discriminatory and sexist not to just accept that this is how young women talk. Personally, I think discouraging up-talk is just another way that we ask people of all sorts to conform to workplace norms. It’s not like women are born speaking that way and can’t change it. But the controversy around this (as well as the related one around vocal fry) does exist.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        I lean towards the “we expect people to conform their speech to professional norms in all kind of ways” argument. Yeah, there’s all kinds of gendered implications to policing a young woman’s uptalk, and it’s wise to be aware of that and the processes that encourage it….but. If someone sighs a lot and speaks in a monotone, they will sound bored and disinterested. If someone speaks rapidly and clips their words, they will come off as brusque and impatient. If someone speaks quietly and swallows their words, they will sound shy and insecure. If you drop “like” or “uhhhh” every other word, you sound like you can’t think and talk at the same time. There’s a whole category of speech patterns that are just not appropriate in a professional setting, when addressing clients. It’s not like we’d all only pick on uptalk.

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        1. Say what, now?

          This is just my 2 cents, but for the reasons that Snark mentioned above I think that you should talk to her. Maybe you’ll find that it’s not up-talk and it’s the case that she really isn’t that confident in what she’s saying. Then you can coach her to be more confident in what she means. Or maybe it’s just her speech pattern. If that’s the case you can tell her that it impacts the way people hear what she’s saying and she can decide to be more definitive with her tone or she can decide to live with it.

          Reply
          1. Anon anon anon

            Exactly. I’d be really nonjudgmental about it at first. There’s a good chance that it’s just a habit that she picked up from people she went to school with or something, but, as with anything, you never know. There’s a chance it’s related to something more serious and difficult to talk about.

            So I would say, empathetically, “Are you aware that you talk this way?” and go from there. She might not even be aware of it.

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          2. Legal Beagle

            Yes, this is a great approach. It’s not inherently sexist to offer feedback on a behavior that is negatively impacting how an employee is perceived by clients, even if that behavior is stereotypically feminine. (If you were saying, “Your voice is too high-pitched so people don’t take you seriously” that would be sexist and not ok.) This is a mannerism that she can change, and it will benefit her to work on it. Women are implicitly and explicitly coached to be self-doubting and self-effacing, to our own detriment, so getting encouragement to trust in her expertise and speak confidently could be really great for her.

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          3. Em Too

            Also, I don’t think you should say never use that tone!

            ‘That seems OK, let’s move on.’
            ‘That seems OK, let’s move on?’

            Both have their place, and good to have both at your disposal.

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        2. LBK

          There’s racial elements of this as well; I think the argument is a lot more nuanced than just conforming to “professional norms” when those norms have generally settled around how white men speak, and there’s a conversation to be had about whether that should be the default or the standard.

          Reply
            1. LBK

              Sorry, I didn’t mean uptalk specifically, I was referring to policing speech patterns in general in response to Snark saying “I lean towards the ‘we expect people to conform their speech to professional norms in all kind of ways’ argument.”

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              1. fposte

                It might be more broadly applicable to talk about it in terms of hegemony rather than race, since we’re talking a phenomenon that exists in countries where racial difference is not necessarily the classic cultural inequality.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  Valid point, I was coming from a US mindset but you’re right that the socioeconomic relationships aren’t the same across the globe.

          1. Snark

            I’m really failing to see the nuance in “when one is providing expert advice and insight to a client, one should sound confident, definitive, and reassuring.” That’s not “how white men speak,” it’s how anybody wants to be spoken to by someone they’re paying to advise them.

            As mentioned above, the distinction between patriarchal hegemony and reasonable professional advice is, would you say this to someone of the opposite gender? And the answer is yes, both in theory and in actual practice. And if it were a different quirk (monotone and flat, clipped and rapid, interspersed with fillers) would you say something to the person? Again, the answer is yes.

            I think we’re falling all over ourselves to be as woke as humanly possible here, and that’s probably the direction to err in if there’s an error to make, but this is a lot less fraught you’re making it.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Because “confident, definitive, and reassuring” don’t have the same pitches to every group, and the pitches that you’re describing historically belong to a specific hegemonic group. (Note the NYT article linked in my name downthread that says for women uptalk gets *more* common when they’re in authority, not less.)

              I don’t think that means you can’t coach somebody to do less uptalk because of the perceptions, but I think it’s like all communication and dress in that what’s okay is a complicated build on being like the people who are most powerful and not because of some inherent benefit, and that sometimes that definition of “okay” deserves some interrogation.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                “Because “confident, definitive, and reassuring” don’t have the same pitches to every group”

                Can you provide a specific example of a group where uptalk is a persistent, common feature of professional verbal communication, and widely perceived as confident, definitive, and reassuring?

                “Note the NYT article linked in my name downthread that says for women uptalk gets *more* common when they’re in authority, not less”

                Well, given the difficulty of being a woman in authority, and how quick many men are to perceive a definitive, authoritative tone from a woman as bitchy abrasiveness, it makes a certain kind of unfortunate sense that women with authority over that type of man would adopt conciliatory, status-diminishing verbal patterns. But that certainly doesn’t mean that speech pattern is actually confident and definitive. And while it is a great demonstration of hegemony and patriarchy, I don’t think the solution is to argue in favor of that inflection – I think the solution is to push back on fragile dudes who can’t handle declarative sentences from a woman.

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                1. fposte

                  Sure, uptalk has been comparatively free of stigma in Australia. There you go. (Then there’s pitched languages, which, if we’re arguing that this is somehow inherent and not just cultural, should be relevant to the discussion as well.)

                  For the women’s use, I think you’re having a tough time letting go of the lens that it has to mean some kind of posed subservience, and it just looks like it’s a lot more complicated than that. A lot of the popular interpretation seems to be kind of a cultural backronym rather than a genuine assessment of how people use it and its effects–basically, it’s bad science and I think communication deserves better.

                2. LBK

                  I’m really failing to see the nuance in “when one is providing expert advice and insight to a client, one should sound confident, definitive, and reassuring.” That’s not “how white men speak,” it’s how anybody wants to be spoken to by someone they’re paying to advise them.

                  You can’t see how a society where white men are more naturally perceived to be confident, definitive and reassuring, the way white men generally speak might also come to associate with those qualities? I think we have opposite views on the cause and effect here. It sounds like you think that manner of speech inherently conveys confidence and that white men have just been better at adopting it; I think that’s backwards, and that the way most white men speak has come to be associated with confidence because of gendered socialization.

                  Linguistics are more or less a social construct – your association between uptalk and lack of confidence is based on formed perceptions, not some kind of innate biological reaction to that tone of voice.

                3. Snark

                  I’m not letting go of it because I’m not being presented with good, unambiguous reasons why I’m wrong; I’m just being told it’s fraught and complex and that my attitude is problematic. Forgive me if I don’t find shaming and vagueness terribly compelling as counterarguments.

                  However it’s used, whatever the effects, affected, non-dialectic uptalk is something just about everybody could excise from their communication style and realize positive effects in how they’re perceived. It’s neither necessary nor productive to use it. It’s really not that fraught.

                4. Snark

                  “Linguistics are more or less a social construct – your association between uptalk and lack of confidence is based on formed perceptions, not some kind of innate biological reaction to that tone of voice.”

                  This is how the social sciences community has tended to conceptualize how social constructs relate human psychology – that there are no features of the underlying psychological landscape that affect the social structures layered over them. I actually happen to disagree that model is universally and equally applicable to all social constructs. I have seen some pretty convincing arguments that posit innate features of human – and just animal, in general – psychology and neurology that underlie many (not all!) social constructs. In particular, I think the use of tone is one of them.

                  “It sounds like you think that manner of speech inherently conveys confidence and that white men have just been better at adopting it; I think that’s backwards, and that the way most white men speak has come to be associated with confidence because of gendered socialization.”

                  No, I think there is a manner of speech that, regardless of who adopts it, conveys confidence and definiteness.

                5. LBK

                  I think you’ve been presented with a couple decent, detailed arguments that you seem to be dismissing outright in favor of saying there’s no place for uptalk, period. Can’t you at least consider what might be behind your distaste for it, and that there might be some bias related to gender?

                  In the same vein that you believe it’s not necessary or productive, I don’t see it as being so detrimental, either. Wouldn’t it be easier for you to just get over it than asking people to change their natural manner of speaking?

                  FWIW this is also a particular sticking point for me as my natural speech pattern falls more or less in line with a stereotypical gay male manner of speaking (somewhere between Will and Jack). I have over time learned to turn it off as needed, but I hate that I have to in order to be taken seriously – I am, frankly, one of the smarter and better employees on my team, and if the way I talk prevents you from being able to accept information from me, that seems like your problem, not mine. You’ll be the one falling behind.

                6. LBK

                  No, I think there is a manner of speech that, regardless of who adopts it, conveys confidence and definiteness.

                  And you think it’s mere coincidence that that manner of speech most naturally coincides with the way the majority of white men talk?

                7. fposte

                  FWIW, Snark, I don’t read any comments, obviously including my own, as shaming you, merely disagreeing with you.

                8. SRB

                  I don’t think snark is saying it’s coincidence, rather that you’re both advocating different directions of causality for the correlation.

                  Snark is saying there is an objective tone that sounds authoritative. That would be the tone not typically used to ask questions but the tone used to make declarative statements in whatever language.
                  Separately, men in society are more “allowed” to use this tone without being viewed negatively than women are, *and because of that fact* white men use it more often.

                  It’s seems you are arguing the reverse of that causality, that white men commonly use a tone of voice *and because of that fact* that tone of voice is considered by society as authoritative.

                  The direction of causality matters because it affects what we as society should do about it. If it’s the first, then the problem is not the perception of the tone, but society’s perception of * women* who use declarative tones and we need to change our perception of women using declarative tones away from “abrasive” and to “confident”. If it’s the second, then the problem is that women speak a certain way and we need to start accepting that way (uptalk) as declarative even when it might not sound that way.

                9. LBK

                  I agree with that assessment, SRB. Mephyle just posted a link to an article further down in the comments that mentions there being some languages or dialects where uptalk is the standard; that, in conjunction with fposte’s article about uptalk not being stigmatized in Australia, gives me a pretty comfortable foundation that the idea of confident speech being (biologically) objective is wrong. At the very least it’s a mixture of biological and cultural.

                10. SRB

                  I think when taking other languages into consideration, that’s probably true that tone is not purely biological. Different languages and cultures have different ways of communicating confidence vs appeasement.

                  I’d argue though that women’s tenancy to use a communication style in line with their cultures “appeasement” style is not biological, but social. In our case (US) we’re talking uptalk.

                  Example, I, a woman lead programmer, use uptalk when directing certain people. I know I do it. Its not biological though, I trained myself to do it, it’s actually really unnatural for me. But it’s the only way some people listen.

                  I don’t need my manager to tell me it makes me sound less confident. Duh I know that. I’m not naive or stupid. I don’t need him to tell me to change, I need him to assure me that he won’t ding me for being “abrasive” when I speak declaratively, and that my direct reports will listen to me when I do.

                  I think fundamentally we’ll need both approaches I mentioned above. People will need to accept that uptalk happens and not blame uptalkers for doing what they can in a crummy system, until the day comes when any woman anywhere can declare a decision without being labeled abrasive, and we must do what they can to hasten the approach of that day by not judging women who make statements.

                  Which I think is what everyone is saying in one way or another. :)

                11. LBK

                  Ah, I see where you’re coming from – I was looking at the biological vs cultural element of how people react to uptalk, but assuming from the perspective of women who use uptalk that it’s generally biological/natural. I hadn’t even considered the way that intersects with the whole “abrasive” issue women run into, and that uptalk can be an intentional form of softening language.

                  Geez, being a woman pretty much sounds like the worst.

                12. Jesmlet

                  @LBK – not sure where you finally landed on this but just my 2 cents, infusing every statement with the tone most often associated with a question would naturally imply a lack of confidence. Unless everyone used up-talk, it makes sense that those who do are perceived as less confident – and it very well may be that they are. I don’t think our society’s deference to the white man has anything to do with this. Up-talk is a huge pet peeve of mine whether it’s being used by a man or a woman and that has nothing to do with any sociodemographic variables.

                13. SRB

                  Eh, you get used to it? :)

                  I fortunately work for a great company with a lot of women in leadership (>50%) Where with most people I can just say “give me the TPS reports with a cover sheet by COB.” And it’s fine. There’s just… some people. And clients. Ugh clients.

                  But most women I know in leadership, most uptalk at least occasionally, most know they are doing it, and most do it situationally in response to a particular person/group. I can’t speak for all women everywhere, but not every uptalker is helplessly stuck in a habit they are unaware of. I think you’re right that the answer isn’t to teach uptalkers to sound more confident (we know.) but to assure uptalkers that *you* won’t judge them for declarative sentences and to teach others to do the same.

                14. LBK

                  I understand why, independent of gender, some people dislike uptalk across the board, but I’d be surprised if most of those people truly recognize it and are reviled by it equally in men and women. I think the cultural association it has with being a female behavior causes people to notice it more in women, because it’s part of a specific negative stereotype (the valley girl) that doesn’t have a male equivalent.

                  That being said, I think women probably do uptalk more often than men, but that means that even if you’re noticing it 100% of the time regardless of gender there’s a disparate impact to women in negatively perceiving people who uptalk. I think you’re still better off overall learning to get over your perception of people who uptalk as unreliable. Figure out if someone’s information is reliable the way you do with most people who don’t have verbal cues you can go by: by taking their information at face value until proven otherwise.

                  I guess I just don’t understand what you stand to lose by dropping your assumptions about people who uptalk.

                15. Anon anon anon

                  Geez, what is with the word abrasive? It seems like it’s become a catch-all for “normal, harmless things that are frowned upon in some circles if you’re not a man.” Like direct communication, being knowledgeable, saying what’s on your mind, expressing a negative opinion about anything, etc.

                16. NorthernSoutherner

                  Anon, declarative from women sounds ‘abrasive’ to men. That’s it, that’s the bottom line. It sounds like mom yelling at them to take out the garbage.

                  I should qualify my statement, because I think it’s particularly bad here in the US. Even Pakistan had a female leader (who was assassinated, but still). There have been female presidents throughout Latin America. But here, when a woman at a podium sounds, to them, like mom yelling, it ain’t happening.

            2. Delphine

              If “sounding white” or “talking white” or code switching to sound more “professional” weren’t a thing, I’d be more inclined to agree with you. But the fact is that in many countries, sounding confident and reassuring has come to mean, “speak with a white person’s accent and in their dialect”.

              Reply
        3. Artemesia

          Women are more likely to constantly say ‘I’m sorry’ too. Uptalk and constant apologetic speech are part of the cultural expectation for women to abnegate and submit. It is cringing, insecure behavior, even when the person is just doing it from habit. It is not misogynist to help people drop this tic; it will help these young women in their career advancement.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            That’s an interesting take on the solution – to me, I think it makes more sense to train people to accept a variety of speech patterns and stop viewing traits more common in female manners of speaking as weak, insecure and generally negative. That’s vastly preferable to me than homogenizing everyone’s speech (which definitely has a disparate impact to minorities) to ease the minds of people who can’t get past the way someone talks to focus on what they’re saying.

            Reply
            1. Emi.

              Yeah, especially given how much of the “how to act like a man to succeed at work” advice boils down to “men are rude and obnoxious, and you can too!”

              Reply
          2. Jesmlet

            Eh, I don’t know if I’ve been brainwashed, but I’ve always believed that apologizing and accepting blame even in situations when it’s not your fault does tend to be the path of least resistance. When a client calls upset about something, even if it’s not our fault, the first thing I do is apologize for their frustration. People tend to yell less at sympathetic people. When our accountant is stressed out about things, I apologize first then present my point of view. This is something I see my (very masculine) male boss do all the time and it works really well for him. That’s not to say that I can’t pull out the sternness when I need to, but people tend to be more agreeable with agreeable people, and then in situations when I do have to lay down the law, it has more of an impact.

            Reply
            1. oranges & lemons

              Yeah, sometimes it’s really just tactical. I naturally have a pretty flat affect but in professional communications I tend to be a lot more bubbly and inject qualifiers into my statements because I have a job that involves a fair amount of telling people things they don’t want to hear and I can’t afford to come across as abrasive. If I were a middle-aged man I could probably get away with sounding a lot more decisive. I don’t think any of this is ideal, but I also like being employed.

              Reply
            2. Anna

              Yes, it is a thing that can help pave the way for ease of interactions in business BUT it’s also been pretty well documented that it’s something women tend to do to soften direct orders when their male counterparts would not. “I’m sorry we’re doing it differently, but we have to do it this way” rather than “It does suck that we have to change our process, but we have to do it this way.” There is a difference and it can impact how a woman is viewed at work.

              Reply
      2. Aerin

        There’s definitely a possibility that the coaching might be perceived as sexist because it is inherently at least somewhat gendered. So the framing of it will be really important. “Don’t ever talk like that because it sounds dumb” is sexist. “You want to make sure you’re conveying confidence in these specific situations” is less loaded for many reasons, including that it’s advice that could cover a lot of different behaviors that aren’t necessarily gendered (eye contact, body language, speaking speed, etc.)

        Reply
        1. Aerin

          It also occurs to me that it might just be that her baselines are off. For instance, I used to have problems with eye contact because I felt like too much eye contact would make the other person uncomfortable. And that’s a thing that can happen, but my perception of where that line is was way off. It took a conscious effort of telling myself, “No, this is fine, they’ll show signs of discomfort if it’s too much” to break myself of it. So it’s possible that her understanding of the line between too timid and too forceful is just miscalibrated, and she’ll just need that reassurance of “No, that’s fine, you could even push it a little further without going over the line.”

          Reply
        2. Lil Fidget

          I agree, and I’d suggest that OP focus on helping her change her tone specifically when she’s talking to clients, rather than trying to make her speak in a whole different tone all the time. I got advice as an entry level employee – talk in a lower tone, and slower, more like a man, as it makes you sound more assertive and competent. (This advice was from an older woman for what its worth). Now, she meant well, but this really gets into your head and makes you crazy. It’s very difficult to change how you talk entirely. If she’d said “during X meetings please do Y” that would have been easier than saying “basically I wish you were an old white man instead of a 22 year old female.”

          Reply
      3. Specialk9

        Oh, yeah, it’s totally a thing, which is why OP was clever to write into Alison, and Alison’s focus on instilling confidence is a good tack. (The more sexist versions would say that up-talk makes one sound dumb, phrased as ‘bimbo’… That’s not helpful, whereas confident is.)

        I’m much more aware of vocal fry in men these days. It’s totally a thing. People just seem to notice with women.

        Reply
      4. Optimistic Prime

        It’s actually not almost exclusively used among young women – studies have shown that slightly more women than men use it but not enough to call it a definitely feminine trait even within the U.S. But it is nonetheless commonly associated with young women – and particularly an often derided group of young women (“Valley Girls,”), and that’s part of the reason it’s devalued in the United States.

        And no, I don’t think it’s just another way we conform to workplace norms; there’s definitely a gendered element to it. I can still see telling someone to change it because changing individual behavior is easier than changing cultural norms, and it can still hold you back, but that doesn’t mean there’s no gendered element to it at all.

        Reply
    3. IT Dweeb

      Also I think rising intonation can have a smug connotation–like, “because it’s against regulationnns?” with the rising tone could, to me, convey something like “duh, didn’t you know that? why do I have to explain this to you?” Especially over the phone!

      Reply
      1. Delphine

        I can guarantee that we’ve all heard men speak with vocal fry, and it’s never been something we’ve asked men to stop doing, because it’s only perceived a particular way when more and more women (in the public eye) have vocal fry.

        Reply
        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels (formerly ancolie)

          This American Life had a segment on vocal fry. The show constantly got complaints about two female contributors’ vocal fry and how awwwwwwwwwful it sounded. Then Ira Glass pointed out that he has major, major vocal fry, but no one has ever complained about it.

          Reply
          1. oranges & lemons

            Yeah, I normally don’t notice vocal fry, but it’s very pronounced in Ira Glass’s voice. If someone wanted an example of what vocal fry sounds like, that’s the first example I’d give.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              Ira Glass’ vocal fry does bug me. And it bugs me when women do it, too, but I also think LBK’s info on how in Australia it’s not A Thing like it tends to be in the US is really interesting and kind of speaks to the definite cultural component to it.

              Reply
      2. Emi.

        I have a male colleague who vocally fries constantly. Like, everything he says is fried. And he still sounds authoritative.

        Reply
      3. Jesmlet

        Because female voices are in a higher register, I think it’s easier to hear the vocal fry because there’s a greater contrast. When you really pay attention, a lot of males have it to but it’s just not as distinct.

        Reply
      4. FormerLW

        This is discouraging and frankly, infuriating. This? IS my voice. I can’t help it. Sorry I’m “horrible to listen to.”

        Reply
      5. MakesThings

        I honestly don’t get why vocal fry is “horrible to listen to”. I’m fine with it. Not bothered. Nothing horrible.

        Reply
      6. Zoe

        It’s not vocal fry, it’s ‘uptalk’. And yes, it’s something women tend to do more often than men. But it can also just be part of an accent (i.e. Australian). I do it too because I am bilingual and my accent is a bit of a weird mix. I’ve never had any problems with coming across less confident and I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to correct someone on the way they speak. There are a lot of people that hate the way Northerner’s (in the UK) pronounce their t’s but nobody would ever correct them. Just because you’re annoyed by something doesn’t mean it’s wrong and I think it’s discriminatory to suggest she should change.

        Reply
  2. KarenT

    #1 is actually a really interesting topic in the linguistic community. It’s called uptalk or high rising terminal. It’s most common in young women and referred to colloquially as valley girl speak. It’s definitely perceived as unprofessional, unconfident, and sometimes ditzy. I agree you’re doing your report a favour by pointing it out. There have been some arguments lately that criticism of uptalk is a bit sexist, given it’s common among young women. I’ll link to a slate article in the comments for anyone who’s interested.

    Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        I think the geographical context is important, though. A high rising terminal / uptalk isn’t a very common speech pattern over here, or analogous to policing women’s speech patterns. I would be very confused if someone spoke to me this way when they were meant to be advising me.

        Reply
        1. Mookie

          It’s been criticized enough in England, though, to be scorned as an Australasian affectation, and I remember Stephen Fry handwringing a bit about it more than a decade ago. It’s also a feature of some contemporary English dialects in Ulster.

          Reply
        2. Petunia

          The rising pitch is common (for people of all genders) in regional accents such as Scouse and Brummie. Which has its own nasty implications. Brummies are frequently perceived as less competent and intelligent.

          Reply
          1. Kali

            I read an interesting study once, that found that that’s only the case for people in the UK. People from outside of the UK, who don’t link the accent to a stereotype, are more likely to enjoy the sound.

            As a Brummie, I like that study. I also quite like up-talk, though possibly because I got it into my head when I was about six that that’s how Barbie talks. And Barbie has been a doctor, a vet, and president.

            Reply
            1. Specialk9

              Oh yeah, we Americans generally hear all British Isles accents, broadly, as smart and sexy. Australian/Kiwi is seen as laid back and sexy. So if you’re from there and have no luck with your desired partner groups, moving to the US might up your odds. :D

              Reply
                1. Anon anon anon

                  Sadly(?), it’s true. Americans really go for accents. Especially certain ones. British Isles / Aussie / Kiwi for sure. I’ve noticed the same isn’t true for American accents in those places! Haha. I started talking in a vague “I could be from anywhere” accent overseas and it still comes back sometimes.

          2. Else

            Yeah, and as a complete outsider, I looked up Brummies talking on youtube after I heard that, and I like their accent. They sound pleasant and friendly to me, not dopey. It’s so weird how different accents can get these associations within their region, and give a completely different impression to others.

            Reply
        3. fposte

          There’s a very early Dick Francis novel, publication date 1969, where the protagonist is utterly smitten with his romantic interest’s speech; what’s described in fairly complicated terms as an individual quirk is clearly an early display of uptalk. (And the author and character are of course both British.) I was fascinated by the description as a kid and it took me a long time to realize that this magical speech pattern was just uptalk.

          Reply
            1. fposte

              Heh. I don’t remember, so it could have been; however, she actually wasn’t an MPDG but a well-bred, sensible, and rather sheltered English gel.

              Reply
        4. DaniCalifornia

          I agree. My dad’s side of the family is from PA and I never noticed how we tend to uptalk things until my husband pointed it out. I don’t have a very high female voice so mine does not come across as valley girl so much as a slight hint of a question mark instead of a period on the latter half of a sentence. But when my husband met my family, he realized where I got it from. I have had to practice not doing it. Now when I am around my family I notice it more often and it amuses me more than anything else.

          Reply
      2. nep

        Yeah — Jessica Grose’s voice is annoying. (Or, to put it precisely, I am annoyed by it. It’s not ‘objectively’ annoying.)

        Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      Uptalk is viewed as unprofessional, not because women do it, but because it sounds unsure. Unfortunately, many women are also unsure due to programming and will therefore use this type of speech. It is more a woman problem than a man problem but it’s still a problem.
      I don’t believe it is sexist to criticize uptalk for those reasons. I wouldn’t trust an unsure male talking this way either.

      Reply
        1. Engineer Girl

          I am an engineer. I was the first in my group. I was first in many places. I went to places where there were no women’s toilets. I therefore understand extreme sexism in the workplace. I also understand cause and effect.
          I understand that women are constantly programmed into “you can’t” and “you’re not smart enough”. You get this from five years old and on. After 10+ years of being told this (gaslighting), the girl becomes hesitant. She starts framing things as “I think” instead of “I beleive”. She ends statements as a question instead of as an assertion. The upspeak is one result of this life long sexist programming.
          Most men didn’t get this kind of programming and therefore do not have the upspeak.

          Reply
          1. Myrin

            Is that the reason why this kind of speak exists in the first place? I’m just wondering since this isn’t a thing in my country/language and I’m only vaguely familiar with it through exaggerated uses in English-speaking media; and it seems like a weird thing to exist at all since English isn’t one of those languages (like some East Asian or African ones) where different tones give words entirely different meanings (certain connotations conveyed through tone notwithstanding). It seems strange to me that such a pattern would develop at all because going up with your voice means questioning something and why would I want to make everyone of my sentences sound like a question?

            Reply
            1. Em Too

              The question intonation invites agreement/reassurance, rather than it being a flat statement.

              I’m sure there’s much more to the story than that, but it’s a heavy use of a particular tone that is usually used infrequently, rather than coming from nowhere.

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              1. Snark

                And when someone is relying on you to have a definitive, reliable understanding of a technical or legal issue, inviting them to reassure and agree is not going to be reassuring or confidence-inspiring.

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              2. Falling Diphthong

                The question intonation invites agreement/reassurance.

                This is a good way to put it. If someone is prickly and grouchy and higher powered than you, this sort of soothing from a subordinate can smooth out the rough edges. They need to take care of you, poor hesitant little thing… It can be picked up as a verbal tic by anyone who feels that’s their social role. But cross-applied to other situations, it doesn’t work in the same way. (It’s not like code-switching is some new invention.)

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  It looks like some linguists have tracked it as having a completely different use too, though–that it’s a way to preclude interruption.

                2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

                  Yes, in some people’s speech it can be a way to hold the floor.

                  Other than in questions, pitch also rises in English when listing things: e.g. “This bus goes to Newton, Allston, Brighton, and Cambridge.” The first three will rise before the final fall in pitch.

                  I knew someone in college who, when I first met her, I thought “Oh, she’s an uptalker, LOL.” But it was kind of interesting: after ending several phrases with a rise, the last phrase would end with falling pitch. So the rise signified that there was more coming.

                  This is probably not obvious to people from geographical and other demographics who aren’t familiar with it, though.

            2. TL -

              Pitch in English is used a lot for indicating emotional state or adding to context of the sentence – so monotone can read as angry*, inflecting up reads as a question, inflecting down reads as Very Serious, constant changes in pitch read as excitement, getting really high pitched reads as worried…
              All that to say, uptalk probably developed in a class/region of girls who, for whatever reason, didn’t want to commit to strongly to any one statement (teenagers are like this a lot) and it became habit and caught on for whatever reason makes some things trends and others not.

              *This is why Russian sounds angry to many English speakers; they don’t change pitch as much and I’m told rely more on volume to convey inflections. It sounds monotone and often is loud and we read that as angry.

              Reply
              1. Anon anon anon

                I’ve noticed something similar among people from certain parts of Asia. Sometimes I start to respond as if they’re being rude because of the inflection. Then I remind myself that their native language probably has different inflection patterns and they probably don’t mean to be rude at all. I bet this kind of miscommunication happens a lot.

                Reply
            3. Julia

              I think German has some upspeak as well. I can say “kann sein” (could be) with a rising intonating and sound unsure.
              In other languages, this wouldn’t work because the rising intonation towards the end would really turn the sentence into a question, e.g. in Japan, where “iku” means I/you/we/they go, but “iku?” means “will I/you/we/they go?”

              Reply
              1. Perse's Mom

                While Japanese can be just inflected for a question, it also often comes with the very useful question-indicating ‘ka?’ I’m not sure if that’s relegated to more formal speech nowadays and the younguns drop it in favor of inflection among their peers, though (it’s been well over a decade since my whole semester and a half studying it).

                Reply
                1. Julia

                  “ka?” works in formal speech and for men, but I as a woman wouldn’t in informal speech use “iku ka?” because that sounds male and rough. I would say “iku?” with a rising intonation. Depending on level of formality, I may even say “ikimasu?” with a rising intonation.

              2. Myrin

                “kann sein” is unsure in and off itself, though, isn’t it? Inhaltlich, I mean; wenn was sein kann, dann weiß ich’s per definitionem nicht, or I’d just say Yes or No.

                Reply
                1. Julia

                  Sometimes, yes. But I know many people including myself who use “kann sein” to mean “I don’t know and I don’t particulary want to continue talking about it”, so who knows?

                2. Myrin

                  Ah, okay, I get what you mean. I still don’t think that is equivalent to this uptalk business but I understand your meaning.

            4. Specialk9

              I always read the Valley Girl uptalk thing as this troubling form of enhancing perceived femininity by reducing perceived intelligence. It’s the same thing as the breathy little-girl thing Marilyn Monroe did. There’s this idea that ‘smart girls aren’t sexy’…though even in more feminist guy circles it can still manifest as ‘smart girls are sexy so long as they’re not smarter than I am’.

              Reply
            5. Cruciatus

              It sort of reminds me of when I hear (some) German language speakers end sentences with “oder?” It confused me a lot the first few times I heard it! I’m not fluent enough in the language but I could definitely understand “oder?” “Do you want to go out tonight oder…?” There’s a hesitancy there and the speaker is maybe not quite sure how the other is feeling about X…oder…? At least that’s my take. As I said–I’m not fluent enough in German to dissect it too much!

              Reply
          2. Engineer Girl

            I wanted to add that I would rather get rid of the root cause (gaslighting/put downs) that create the symptom of upspeak. Pushing for acceptance of the symptom is harmful to women, not empowering. It masks what is going on.

            Reply
            1. WeevilWobble

              Most linguists do not believe that’s the cause of uptalk. It’s common in several accents (notably Australian) and in both genders. It’s worked it’s way across the US and Britain.

              It’s just that people tend to project insecurity on it when women do it.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                I project insecurity and uncertainty onto it whether it’s done by a man or a woman – and I worked with a guy in grad school who did this, and it came off just as insecure.

                Reply
                1. Safetykats

                  I agree – the upwards intonation implies to me (and to many other others I’ve worked with or for) that the speaker isn’t sure of the statement, regardless of age or gender. I had a senior, male, PhD staffer who did this incessantly. Although he was an expert in his field management asked me not to have him provide presentations to our regulators because of that speech pattern. Their comment was that regardless of his level of expertise, he always sounded like he didn’t really know what he was talking about.

              2. LCL

                It’s really common on the left coast US, I see it as a generational thing. Men do it too, but, here’s that gender thing again, when men do it I hear it as mocking and slightly snarky. The basic delivery is learned from modern TV ‘comedies’. You would be doing a kindness to speak to your employee about this. When you do it it show her video examples of both kinds of speech, uptalk and non-, with speakers of different race/gender/background. That sounds like a tall assignment but I bet a few minutes googling will find exactly what you need.

                Reply
              3. Engineer Girl

                A symptom can have multiple sources. Uptalk in Australia may have a different source than uptalk in the US.
                I realize that it is increasing in the younger generations. I also know that the younger generations are less secure than in the past. Correlation?

                Reply
            2. Rusty Shackelford

              I find upspeak unspeakably annoying – I had to stop listening to an otherwise enjoyable fiction podcast because one (male) character used it constantly – and I certainly hope it’s not something we end up feeling we have to accept in the name of empowerment.

              Reply
          3. LoiraSafada

            It’s staggering that you still don’t see the problem with your original post. And “I think” and “I believe” are considered unprofessional in many circles. One is no better than the other – they both signal that you’re not sure what you’re talking about in many cases. In fact, I’d rather someone say “I think” than “I believe” since their “beliefs” are unlikely to be relevant to the professional topic at hand.

            Reply
            1. TL -

              I disagree. Both are appropriate in many professional contexts. And, at least in STEM, “I believe” is often used to shorthand “From the evidence presented (which is not conclusive), I reasonably draw these conclusions…..”,
              Whereas “I think” more likely implies “From my previous experience/knowledge…”

              Eg, “I believe the teapot’s instability comes from the lower chocolate content” implies that the evidence points to this being the *most likely* but not *definitive* problem.
              “I think….” might mean you’ve just seen the problem and are thinking it through or remember having seen something like this before. Thus, “I believe” would often be a stronger statement, because you’re implying you have evidence to support your beliefs.

              (Though I think in a lot of professional contexts they’re completely interchangeable. We can be a bit pedantic over language in the sciences….)
              .

              Reply
              1. Koko

                Yes, I use the two words similarly. “I think” means this is my professional opinion about something that doesn’t have a clear answer. “I think we should add a PS to this letter to boost response rate.” “I believe” means there is a correct answer and I’m fairly certain I’ve identified it. “I believe this was caused by an overnight server outage that resulted in some data being lost.”

                Reply
                1. Safetykats

                  Agree – although I would still interpret “I believe” as indicating that analysis of the event was still incomplete, and that there might therefore be another cause. If the investigation is complete and the cause has been isolated, it would be presented as a statement of fact in the engineering environments where I’ve worked.

                2. SarahTheEntwife

                  That’s exactly the distinction that I make, but I’d never quite seen it written out that way before. Neat!

              2. Specialk9

                Interesting to realize that words I use in one way is the opposite in other fields. I use “believe” to shade my assertion with doubt (I believe but you know what, let me up back and check, don’t hold me to it), whereas “think” is more confident.

                Separated by a common language.

                Reply
                1. Koko

                  It’s not quite the opposite, actually. It’s just that in science nearly *all* statements are shaded with doubt. You would very rarely use the word “know” unless discussing basic factual observations like, “We know that mouse weighs 5 grams.”

                  In this context, “believe” does intend to convey doubt, but at the same time it conveys more certainty than other words like “think” (pretty sure), “suspect” (have noticed what looks like a pattern, needs more investigation), or “speculate” (just spitballing potential ideas based on general background and shallow reading).

              3. Cassie

                This is an important distinction in many fields, just as saying a user “shall” do something means something quite specific in an engineering context.

                Reply
        2. Ramona Flowers

          It doesn’t have to be framed as criticism though. You could view it as coaching someone in an area where they appear to lack confidence. Which is kind of the job of a manager.

          Reply
        3. Ramona Flowers

          Also, the letter writer is in the UK. Uptalk doesn’t sound feminine here so much as being a speech pattern that’s associated with some other countries including Australia.

          Reply
          1. Brisvegan

            I read a while ago that some people associate the increase in uptalk in the UK with the importation of Australian soaps like Neighbours. Apparently some younger people picked up the habit from our trashy TV exports. Sorry? /rising inflection. ;)

            As an Aussie, I really only notice uptalk if it is really exaggerated, eg parodies of Valley Girl speak. I try to use falling inflection when lecturing or giving conference papers. However, I suspect I don’t notice “Australian rising inflection” in my own speach or that of those around me. It’s a cultural norm. Maybe it comes from our convict/working class dominated culture at the time of white invasion, since many of our so-called “settlers” would have had to appease authority in their early life. Apparently the white Australian English accent started as a mix of slurred (some say drunk!) Irish
            and lower class English accents.

            Reply
        4. TL -

          While women’s speech patterns are more likely to be read as unprofessional, uptalk does legitimately turn a statement into a question; both men and women use it as a non-verbal indicator of uncertainty. That makes it a genuine professional concern, especially if you’re trying to establish authority.

          It’s therefore different than vocal fry or a high voice (or other feminine vocal tics), which are not accepted and deliberately used speech patterns for non-verbal (non-word?) communication.

          Reply
          1. Akcipitrokulo

            Exactly. Having a higher-pitched voice or a “feminine” voice in other ways isn’t the issue – it is that she is asking a question. “The book is over there.” sounds completely different in speech to “The book is over there?” – the inflection tells you if it’s indicative or interrogative. The same is true of masculine voices, and if a man were constantly asking, it would have the same effect.

            I agree that women are generally socialised to frame things as a question – “would you do X” vs “do X” for example – and that can be an issue too. But you’d deal with it in the same way.

            It’s a verbal tic that indicates that the speaker is uncertain – whether intonation or having a habit of using questioning language, it’s legitimate to point out to speaker that they would communicate better if they sounded certain.

            Reply
          2. Grits McGee

            Yeah, there’s a male true crime writer who occasionally gets used as a talking head on tv shows, and he does the question inflection thing on every.single.sentence. Given his career and his presence on tv, it’s probably not coming from a place of low self-confidence, but it does feel like listening to linguistic nails on a chalkboard.

            Reply
        5. Marcia

          I don’t have links to hand, and am about to go out, but I’m sure I’ve read that uptalk is not gendered. It is commonly perceived as something young women do, but actually young men do it just as much. Where this is a recent development in speech patterns it is a generational thing, found in both men and women.

          I’m in Scotland, and I hear this more and more. I can’t stand it – apart from the actual sound grating on me, and the vocal fry making my throat sore in sympathy – it does make the speaker sound uncertain and ineffectual.

          My 15 son occasionally slips into this, and has done since primary school age, and I always correct him.

          Reply
          1. Koko

            I’m not sure if you mention vocal fry as a second thing that bothers you or if you’re saying that uptalk is vocal fry – but vocal fry is the opposite of uptalk. It’s speaking in the lowest gutteral range (a la Tara Reid’s raspy smoker voice).

            Reply
            1. fposte

              I assumed it was another example, but I also don’t think they’re as opposed as you suggest–vocal fry is about the fricative effect, not the pitch, and you can do both at once.

              Reply
        6. Snark

          If it makes a difference, I view many speech patterns of young males to be unprofessional too. But just on the face of it, disconnected from gender: pronouncing statements as questions makes you sound unsure of what you’re saying. It is not a reasssuring statement of fact from a confident, definitive person who has the answer for you.

          Reply
        7. another Liz

          Funny how you don’t include the rest of Engineer Girl’s post, which does address the potential sexism. I too am sure she’s not naive about subtle pervasive sexism in the workplace. In fact, she’s probably intimately familiar with it. Which in my opinion makes her an expert on “Is it sexist?” questions. Calling her “Girl”, even ironically to negate the heart of her argument though? I find THAT sexist, hostile, and demeaning.

          Reply
        8. Julia

          Don’t you find it ironic to first champion women’s rights to speak the way they want, and then patronize a woman by a) calling her “girl” and b) claiming she was naive?

          I actually agree with your point that there sure are a lot of coincidences where speech patterns are suddenly considered bad when young women start adopting them, but your way of talking to others here is not something I can agree with.

          Reply
      1. MillersSpring

        I’m a woman, usually woke to all kinds of feminist issues, and I hate uptalk. It makes the person sound flippant and unsure. I can’t trust or believe what I’m being told when the speaker literally sounds like she doesn’t believe it herself.

        I’m a manager, and I would not want someone on my team using uptalk when they’re helping others (which is a big part of our department’s function).

        Reply
        1. Koko

          Same. I’m a feminist and I understand the gendered issues with uptalk but at the same time it is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. It’s a misophonia type of reaction, it doesn’t bother me that sometime sounds uncertain but just the sound itself grates on me, it comes across almost sing-song-y – and the reason most adults can’t stand Barney is because we have less tolerance for sing-song-y cadence.

          Reply
        2. SS

          It drove me crazy one time when I was in a large meeting that included my boss and some of her superiors as well as many others. She was a very good decisive manager, but in that meeting EVERYTHING she said in that meeting included little girl giggles, upspeak, and all the indecisive filler phrases. I was appalled and had no respect for anything she said in that meeting because she sounded so incompetent and unsure. She never spoke like that when she was in meetings with her subordinates.

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      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Unfortunately, uptalk is viewed through a really gendered lens. Men certainly do it, and when they do, they’re often not corrected or described as being unsure. The same goes for vocal fry (This American Life did an excellent piece on it).

        Although I don’t think it’s sexist to criticize uptalk, all else equal, women are criticized for uptalk more frequently and extensively than men. There’s also studies that indicate that it’s an intentional speech pattern that women deploy to invite collaboration. So although it’s not inherently bad, it sounds like it’s genuinely undermining how OP (and possibly others) perceives their report’s competency. So OP should absolutely bring it up and address it head on.

        All that said, as Ramona Flowers notes above, I’ve never heard (unintentional) uptalk used as a common speech pattern in the UK. I have very limited exposure to different parts of the UK, but I suspect the uptalk sounds more jarring in a region where it’s genuinely rare and not part of the cultural context.

        Reply
        1. Engineer Girl

          Many men can get away with uptalk because they already have authority and can take the hit. A younger women usually has less status and authority and a hit will lower their status even more.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Totally agreed! Your comment on how the sexism is embedded does a great job of teasing out why uptalk becomes more policed (and more professionally dangerous) for women than for men.

            Reply
            1. Engineer Girl

              But they inherently have more status. Men are viewed as competent until proven otherwise. Women are viewed as incompetent until proven otherwise.

              Reply
          2. Snark

            I dunno. I knew a guy who was in his early 30s in grad school who did it, and he burned a LOT of reputational capital with people who didn’t know him well. Super smart, very nice guy, but he came off badly because of the uptalk – I know I prejudged him because of it, to my shame. It’s not exclusivley a gendered phenomenon.

            Reply
          3. Xarcady

            I’m pretty much agreeing with Engineer Girl and everything she’s saying. I’ve seen bright, intelligent women have their ideas totally dismissed in large part due to things like uptalk, and asking questions instead of making statements and peppering their decisions with what I call “waffle” words, where it sounds like they are afraid to make a decision. And then the women get upset when their decisions are overridden.

            But then, I tend to talk/write more authoritatively, and get criticized for being “mean” and “cold.”

            Reply
            1. Ainomiaka

              I think the up talk is just the pretext. The ideas are dismissed because if sexism, but up talk is called gender neutral -by people here even! But mostly associated with and punished in women. Now- can the right solution be suck it up and act more like they think men do (see comments above about how men actually up talk as well )? It can. But the level of pretending there are no gender implications is getting rediculious.

              Reply
                1. Anon anon anon

                  Abrasive is pretty much a compliment at this point. Now that it’s come to mean confident, decisive, all that good stuff.

        2. A linguistics type

          A linguist here – just coming here to agree with this. Men do it too, but women are more likely to be corrected (because people are generally more fixated on women’s speech, just like they’re more fixated on their appearance and clothes). Same with quotative and focuser “like” – men actually use these more now, but somehow the stereotype is that young women are the main users.

          The High Rising Terminal is becoming more common among young people in the UK – it’s also very common in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

          None of this is to say the OP can’t suggest the employee tries to avoid speaking like this – of course, s/he can suggest this. It’s just worth keeping in mind that (a) this kind of intonation may be becoming more common and (b) the request might be seen as similar in tone to correcting any other regional/class/age based dialect. (If someone asked me to say “like” less, I would hand them a linguistics paper on it, not modify my speech for them!)

          Reply
          1. A linguistics type

            Just replying to myself to clarify – the OP can definitely coach the employee on this. But I would recommend framing it as “Clients are likely to hear this as XYZ” rather than “It is annoying” or “It makes you sound ditzy/unsure/etc”. Just to acknowledge that is about being perceived professionally, not about the speech inherently.

            The OP might also want to make doubly sure, by listening carefully to make employees too, that s/he’s not personally oversensitised to female HRT – is she sure the men don’t do it too? Worth checking.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              Honestly, though – is it not about the speech, inherently? Uptalk is, well, pretty annoying. It does make her sound unsure, because that is the function of a rising terminal tone in the english language! That’s not separable from how it’s perceived professionally. “It conveys the impression of uncertainty and timidity, and makes your advise sound unreliable,” is a completely accurate statement.

              I find the statement that you’d hand someone a linguistics paper if they asked you to say “like” less pretty weird, too, frankly. I’ve asked several of my direct reports to say “like” less – more males than females, in point of fact, because men do seem to use it more often. And whether it’s a quotative and fixer or not, it’s super irritating when people say it three, four, five times a sentence. If it’s overused, it’s overused – and if I got a “well, actually” and a linguistics paper in response to the reasonable request to reduce it in professional speech, I cannot say I’d respond well.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                And, by extension: if someone sighs a lot and speaks in a monotone, they will sound bored and disinterested. If someone speaks rapidly and clips their words, they will come off as brusque and impatient. If someone speaks quietly and swallows their words, they will sound shy and insecure. There’s a whole category of speech patterns that are just not appropriate in a professional setting, when addressing clients.

                Reply
              2. Mary

                >> It does make her sound unsure, because that is the function of a rising terminal tone in the english language!

                This statement is not true. As several people have said, there are many English accents where a rising intonation is normal and doesn’t indicate a question. That might not be true of your English, but you can’t make a blanket statement about the English language when there are multiple counter points here.

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                1. Snark

                  It’s true of the professional English spoken in most professional settings, it’s true of the vast majority of English speakers, and at that point, the exceptions just prove the rule. Let’s not nitpick based on rare, exceptional regional accents most of us will never run across.

                2. fposte

                  @Snark–but it’s useful in making clear that uptalk isn’t inherently annoying or inherently anything, and I think you’re underestimating the commonness of this tendency in a lot of English speakers. Australian isn’t exactly a rare dialect.

                3. Snark

                  Point taken, fposte, but….the Australian inflection is a pretty distinct one, and in the context of other features of the Australian accent, does not come across the same way as the kind of uptalk we’re debating here does. We’ve all heard the uptalk we’re discussing, have we not?

                4. fposte

                  @Snark–it’s the same rising terminal inflection; the only difference is how many people use it and what kind.

                  If you want to argue that it’s going to signify differently as a perceived majority use, I’ll agree with that, but it’s not inherently different. (And is under similar fire there, FWIW.)

                5. fposte

                  @ myself

                  To expand a bit–I’m a pragmatist, I know people hate upspeak, and I don’t think learning to shift out of it a bit is a big deal.

                  But it’s also really culturally fraught in a way that’s worth investigation, and the fact that how it’s actually used is hugely different from the negative perception of its use is a strong indicator that it’s a concept that is at best much cruder than its reality and is possibly simply unmoored from it.

                6. One of the Sarahs

                  @Snark I utterly disagree that there’s a uniform “professional English spoken in most professional settings” because there is such a variety of dialects, accents and regional tics across the UK. I am a Londoner myself, and so I sometimes fall into the trap that I think “Southern middle class English” is standard, but one can be just as professional with a Yorkshire, Scottish, Welsh, Scouse, Bristolian, Brummie etc etc accent, idiom and speech patterns. For example, speed of talking varies across areas. I really dislike the idea that only people from a specific area/class/social background sounds professional, because it basically says everyone else needs to transform themselves into a narrow mould (not to mention all the research that says diverse workplaces are more effective/creative).

              3. A linguistics type

                Sorry, Snark – I was half-joking about the linguistics paper. (Also, I am a linguistics academic, and if my Head of Department asked me to modify my speech, they’d be pretty out of line – but that’s because we’re in very different industry, and without “clients” as such. It’s similar to not having a dress code, I guess.)

                But as Mary has said already, a rising tone is not “inherently” anything – it’s used differently in different types of English. Over-use of a word or phrase or intonation can indeed be annoying – it’s ok to point out to someone that they overuse a particular phrase. But there is (potentially) a problem when things are read as “over-use” in one group (e.g. women, young people, poorer people, POC), when the same thing done by a different group (e.g. older white men) is not seen as a cause for concern, or not even noticed at all.

                That’s why I think the best course for a manager is to focus on how speaking in a certain way might tend to be perceived by others – and not give the impression that it’s just universally annoying or uncertain sounding. (If you take the latter approach, the employee could validly answer that her family/friends/other boss/other clients/other colleagues don’t seem to notice, or even do this themselves.) If I was a manager, I would also make triply sure, for my own peace of mind, that I was not picking up on this in one group of employees more than others.

                Not using uptalk is basically an arbitrary rule for appearing professional, and the standards are often higher for women than men. (See also: professional clothing, professional hair/make-up, etc.) It’s ok to have arbitrary rules in the workplace, but I think it’s better to acknowledge that that’s what they are.

                Reply
                1. Snark

                  “But as Mary has said already, a rising tone is not “inherently” anything – it’s used differently in different types of English. ”

                  It’s used differently in a few rare, atypical regional dialects of English that do not appear relevant to the current question or to the overwhelming majority of English speakers, so…sounds like the exception that proves the rule to me. A rising tone is inherently a question for all reasonable, colloquial intents and purposes.

                  “That’s why I think the best course for a manager is to focus on how speaking in a certain way might tend to be perceived by others – and not give the impression that it’s just universally annoying or uncertain sounding. (If you take the latter approach, the employee could validly answer that her family/friends/other boss/other clients/other colleagues don’t seem to notice, or even do this themselves.)”

                  But….in general, among most English speakers in both the US and the UK, that’s how it’s going to be perceived. I get it: this is a topic you know a lot about and delve very deeply into, but there’s a danger here of getting way too deeply into the weeds. I think there’s an advantage here in providing clear, actionable advice, rather than making this request sound equivocal or subjective. What do you think of “When you end sentences with a rising tone, it can give clients the impression that you’re uncertain or timid, and we need to be projecting confidence and certainty. Can you work on ending sentences more definitively?” That nods, at least, towards the subjectiveness of it, while still giving a clear directive.

                  “Not using uptalk is basically an arbitrary rule for appearing professional, and the standards are often higher for women than men. (See also: professional clothing, professional hair/make-up, etc.) It’s ok to have arbitrary rules in the workplace, but I think it’s better to acknowledge that that’s what they are.”

                  Just about every facet of social interaction is arbitrary on some level. Arbitrary or not, professional norms do operate here, and they’re part of our reality.

                2. A linguistics type

                  “I get it: this is a topic you know a lot about and delve very deeply into, but there’s a danger here of getting way too deeply into the weeds. I think there’s an advantage here in providing clear, actionable advice, rather than making this request sound equivocal or subjective. What do you think of “When you end sentences with a rising tone, it can give clients the impression that you’re uncertain or timid, and we need to be projecting confidence and certainty. Can you work on ending sentences more definitively?” That nods, at least, towards the subjectiveness of it, while still giving a clear directive.”

                  Undoubtedly true! :-)
                  And I agree that this is the right kind of wording – particularly if the OP is worried that the employee will hear that it’s the OP’s own annoyance, rather than a more general professional norm.

              4. JB (not in Houston)

                From several of your comments, it seems like you, because of your experience, are pushing back on the idea that women get dinged for this stuff more than men. They do. It’s noticed more in women and criticized more in women. And I’m sure that in parts of the world where English is spoken and uptalk is common, they’d not take kindly to you telling them their speech is “annoying.”

                Reply
                1. Snark

                  As the old horse-trader in True Grit said, “I do not deal in hypotheticals. Reality is quite vexing enough.”

                2. A linguistics type

                  Just to note, “dialect” doesn’t have to mean regional dialects. I know a lot of people have been noting regional dialects on this thread, but dialects can be age based rather than geographic.

                  HRT is a feature of an age-based dialect, and one that’s very common (hence all the nods of recognition on this thread!). So I don’t think saying it’s uncommon or regionally specific is true. It’s more accepted in some regions, but it’s found all over – as this thread demonstrates.

                  You can dislike it if you want – older people have always disliked how young people speak, and have always rationalised to themselves why their dislike is logical. That’s ok – but you’re potentially setting yourself up to be annoyed with people a lot in future if you continue to feel so strongly about this. As I’ve said, you can also say that it might come across as unprofessional, but I think it’s a waste of energy to feel so much personal irritation at this stuff.

                  (I will probably be printing out some of this conversation to use in my lecture on this phenomenon! Some tiny differences in speech provoke SUCH strong feelings, while others just fly under the radar, it’s always fascinating.)

          2. Specialk9

            “If someone asked me to say “like” less, I would hand them a linguistics paper on it, not modify my speech for them!”

            If that someone were your manager, I can’t imagine that would go well for you. I’m just imagining my boss’ reaction.

            Reply
              1. A linguistics type

                No probs :-)

                (Only partly joking – I’d be pretty tempted, if only because I could grab it from our undergrad reading list… But, like I said, it’s academia, and the rules are a little different.)

                Like is an interesting one for me, because I teach Ancient Greek, which has lots of little words (called particles) which are used in an identical (and equally repetitive) way to “like”. But of course no one thinks it’s annoying when it’s Ancient Greek. *shrug*

                Reply
            1. Stephenie S Labovitz

              I was sitting on a bus with 2 20-something females behind me. I was trying to tune them out but they were talking so loudly…. One was complaining loudly that she wasn’t getting called back after any of her interviews. During her whole conversation, she could not go more than 4 words in a sentence without adding “like”. “I mean, like, you know, they don’t call me back. Like, there’s no reason you know, like, how qualified I am, like, for that job.” I’m not joking or exaggerating about the amount of vocal tics. I started paying attention. 20 minutes, and not a single sentence without at least 2 “likes”, and most had far more. Over the course of the conversation, she also mentioned that these jobs she was applying for were in COMMUNICATION positions. It took all my strength not to whip around and say “I can tell you EXACTLY why you are not getting called back.” I was also angry at her friend for not helping her by pointing this out to her friend.

              Reply
            2. NaoNao

              I actually wrote a medium article on how “like” has perfectly acceptable linguistic uses and delivered it as a Toastmaster’s speech.

              I was spurred to do so when a much older suitor on online dating sent me a link to a crabby op ed he had written denouncing the “misuse” of like in a very sexist and agist way. I was so angry I blasted out a paper called “In Defense of Like”.

              To me, “hating” the use of emoji, “like”, popular culture icons, and certain vocal inflections not in situ (meaning, not just because you don’t like them, period) but for what they represent (young women, usually) is sexist and agist and I ain’t here for that.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                But, like, as with any, like, feature of the, like, language, if someone, like, has the, like, tendency to, like, overdo it, it can, like, be super, like, distracting. See what I, ummmmmm, am, ah, getting at, hmmmmm?

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Sure, same as swearing can, same as individualized verbal tics can. But that’s different from its being inherently annoying (and, in fact, there’s some good research to suggest that listeners prefer oral communication that *does* contain some phatic words such as “like”). These communication patterns only seem to get acknowledged when they exceed a desirable level but then get condemned entirely as unacceptable, which is, well, tone-deaf :-).

                2. NaoNao

                  Of course, that’s not under debate. Saying “like”, “dude”, “um” or “okay” is annoying, as is any repeated verbal tick. But for some reason many people, especially cranky older men, single out “like” as if it were blue language and they’re mortally offended by a sprinkling of usage.

                3. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

                  If we’re talking about filler words: numerically, Obama used more fillers than Trump. But I don’t think it would be getting too political for this blog to suggest that Obama sounds more professional than Trump nevertheless.

        3. Akcipitrokulo

          UK here – if anyone raises pitch at end of a sentence, it’s a question. I can’t imagine a case where it would be a statement. Same/lower pitch = statement, raised pitch = question.

          Reply
            1. A linguistics type

              It’s very common in Northern Ireland (it just sounds like part of the regional accent – I don’t really hear it as a question when it’s in a NI accent).

              Reply
              1. Akcipitrokulo

                Now I think of it – yes, NI… but you’re right, it isn’t a questioning one. There is a distinct difference between question & not a question even when you do go up at the end!

                Reply
                1. A linguistics type

                  Yes, I think you’re right! There is a difference, but to someone from another region, it might only be a subtle difference.

            2. Kiwi

              It will be common anywhere there are a lot of Aussie/Kiwi expat. We’re terrible for it. Miraculously we can tell the difference between upspeak and a genuine question.

              LW doesn’t mention if the employee is an expat or not, but if she is, its going to be hard to address without altering the accent.

              Reply
              1. Myrin

                OP says “We’re in the UK and as far as I know she’s always lived here.” which sounds like it rules out at least the accent.

                Reply
              2. Winter Blossom

                Yeah. I’m a teacher in Scotland and I had an Australian student for the first time last year. Her accent made it really hard for me to tell if she understood what she was saying when she answered verbally, since she always sounded very unsure of herself. I had to significantly adjust my assessment approach for her, since I needed to be sure she knew the material.

                Reply
        4. saby

          “intentional speech pattern that women deploy to invite collaboration” — yes, this makes sense to me. I have to say — I am a young woman (in Canada if it matters) working in a female-dominated field and I use rising intonation all the time and don’t feel at all unsure or like I’m asking a question! It didn’t really occur to me that people could perceive it this way. To me, a downward intonation sounds very final, like the end of a conversation, so if I might use the rising inflection at the end of a statement to indicate I’m willing to continue talking. Or just because I’m happy! Happiness goes upward!

          Reply
          1. Clare

            Yes, exactly! People who get overly annoyed by it don’t understand its purpose. It’s inviting a dialog with the other person. It sounds like a question because it is- it’s basically a shorthand way to say “I think X, what do you think?” It has nothing do to with being uncertain, it’s a way of continuing the conversation.

            Reply
      3. Sabine the Very Mean

        I think there’s also a programming that it’s cute to do and cute to be confused and ditsy. It’s not. I listened to a very smart woman on NPR talk like that and she was presented as an expert in her field. Brutal. I wanted to write to her.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          Oh, you know, just part of the whole thing where men only have to follow one behavioral code to be acceptable in the home/world and the workplace, but women are criticized for acting too feminine in the workplace and dragged as undesirable if they are too masculine in the home/world.

          Every day there’s a new article about how men don’t go for intelligent women. Here’s one I saw this morning – even men who say they appreciate intelligent women don’t like one when they actually meet her: https://curiousmindmagazine.com/study-reveals-men-feel-around-smart-women-truly-disturbing/

          No wonder that some women decide to affect a feigned confusion. Of course, then they’re damned in the workplace for undermining themselves. You can’t have it all.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            Interesting link. It confirmed my theory, somewhere upthread, that straight men like smart women *only up to their own level of intelligence*, not above. Smart is cool, smartER isn’t, best case is a little less smart.

            Also interesting that smarter doesn’t make a woman less sexy if it’s in an area a man doesn’t care about. He’s an engineer, she’s a speech pathologist? She can be smart as she wants, it doesn’t impact his self worth.

            Reply
        2. NaoNao

          It’s not cute TO YOU another woman who is not threatened by women being intelligent, articulate, and assertive and who you’re not competing with to get jobs, assignments, perks, face time, and kudos in the workplace.

          But let me tell you something: When I was in Asia, I was disgusted to hear women talking like a “sexy baby”…and men *eating it up*. They would literally have a look on their faces like someone hit them over the head with a frying pan.

          Before I left for Asia, it was a constant struggle with both men and women in the workplace to make them like me and not have these angry, cold, turned-off reactions.

          I lived there for three years and developed a lot of the same mannerisms I saw everywhere: lots of qualifiers, making suggestions as questions, using euphemisms, saying things in a roundabout way.

          When I returned to the States, I magically didn’t have trouble fitting in or getting along with coworkers, bosses, big bosses, etc. I don’t use baby talk, uptalk, or vocal fry. I save my stern or serious voice/look for the hills I want to die on. But a soft, feminine manner has gotten me much farther than a dead-serious or “smart” manner. Is it gross? Yeah. Is it sexist? Yeah. Does it make me want to “burn this place down” like Joan from Mad Men. Hell yeah.

          But that’s the way it is.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            Sigh. Yes. I’m another strong assertive woman, who’s learned to stroke male egos, routinely, in ways they will never even realize. It’s gross, but it is required for success, so I do it.

            Reply
          2. swingbattabatta

            Yup. I am assertive and confident, and am constantly told to “be nice” (for just stating my opinion). I have a coworker who told someone else that he thinks I’m bitchy, because I corrected him when he overstepped on a project (I was matter of fact, but did not sugar coat it). I have to butter up the older men in my office to get ANYTHING accomplished. I guarantee you, the men I work with (who are peers, both in age and tenure) never EVER hear comments along these lines. For the guys, confidence is a pro. For me, its a con.

            Reply
        3. Ainomiaka

          Also, being cute and non threatening as a way to get professional stuff done because women are dinged for it there too.

          Reply
      4. 99.99 Percent Lurker

        Peeking out from my usual lurking to say that I am forever grateful to a substitute teacher I had in grade school (a regularly scheduled sub so I saw her several times over the year as she covered all the teachers) who drilled upspeak out of us in the 4th grade. What she would say was to never answer a question with a questioning voice. If you were wrong, saying it like that wouldn’t make you less wrong. If you were right, you wouldn’t get the credit since it sounds like you were guessing anyway. 40 years later and I still remember.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          If you were right, you wouldn’t get the credit since it sounds like you were guessing anyway.

          This is a good summary of why it’s bad in most professional settings.

          Reply
      5. WeevilWobble

        At the end of the day it’s holding her back and she should know it.

        But let’s not pretend that a vocal trend associated highly with women getting on so many nerves is pure coincidence either. Many studies show people have more negative feelings over female voices and tics in a wide range.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          I think in this case the gendered causality is probably reversed, because upward terminal voice has been used to indicate a question long before it became a female vocal tic. If anything it’s probably what was said upthread, about women being socialized to doubt themselves, and that manifesting in uptalk, rather than uptalk being an inherently female thing that was vilified due to association with women.

          Reply
          1. Ainomiaka

            The trends is that this isn’t true. I’m not sure about specifically this, but in fashion, for example the social judgement came after it became culturally coded feminine. I’m not saying it’s impossible for up talk to be an exception, but I do think that would be unlikely

            Reply
            1. fposte

              That’s a really good point, especially that that devaluation of feminine identification is such a widespread tendency that it reaches whole careers and industries. (Now I’m thinking of the Bic pen for ladies kerfuffle.)

              Reply
    2. JamieS

      I can see the argument if a woman’s voice does just truly naturally sound that way. Otherwise it’s a problem that’s likely to hold a woman back and should be fixed. I’d argue people sending the message that type of speech is acceptable in work settings (or arguably just in general life) are doing these young women a disservice by encouraging them to engage in a limiting behavior.

      Reply
    3. nep

      Oh god the vocal fry sounds so awful. Invariably it sounds like someone on the radio is trying too hard and it sounds pretentious and contrived. I’ll turn off my local NPR station when a certain couple anchors are on because of that fry.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        I’ve only gotten mad about NPR voices once – and they all contort their voices something fierce – and that was when Eleanor Beardsley first started, before the presumably thrice-daily speech therapy.

        It was like she took the most backwater mud-sucking base accent, then layered on every awful verbal tic – vocal fry that could bounce quarters 3 feet in the air, weird sing-songy rhythm, terrible French pronunciation, I don’t even know what else. I used to shout at the radio, then turn it off.

        Nowadays, though, she sounds fine. Still not Michele Norris, but none of us are, really.

        Reply
      2. FormerLW

        I’ve said so elsewhere on this thread, but this is really hurtful. When the whole “vocal fry” thing started cropping up in the media a couple of years ago, I learned that the way I talk – my natural, unaffected voice – was ugly, pretentious, and insufferable. I can’t control it unless I, I dunno, pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a vocal coach.

        Reply
    4. Raine

      My phonology professor has a theory that Hollywood has sexualized vocal fry/uptalk/creaky voice to such a point in current films that it’s become almost a vocal sex symbol. Interestingly enough, while vocal fry is more common in young women that men in speech, its equally common across the sexes in singing (e.g. Christina Aguilera, Ariana Grande, Nickelback, Daughtry, etc.).

      Reply
      1. Emi.

        Is it vocal fry that people mean when they talk about how sexy Ingrid Bergman’s “husky” voice is, or is it something different?

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I don’t remember Bergman’s voice well enough, but Judi Dench is full of fry and doesn’t get much grief about it. (Her early biography was even called “With a Crack in Her Voice.”) Hers is also an interesting example because her voice isn’t particularly low.

          Reply
    5. LawBee

      I know this is days late, but the youngest daughter in the Dirty John podcast has the worst case of upspeak I’ve ever heard. It is incredibly annoying.

      Reply
  3. Mes

    How can the employee in #1 change the way she talks?

    (I’m seriously asking. This is how I learned to talk. Should I stop speaking so I don’t annoy people..?)

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      People change speech patterns all the time. They learn to eliminate “um” and other fillers, or not to ramble, or to slow down if they talk too fast (that one was me), or to sound more confident and authoritative (which is what not ending statements with a question mark is), and all sorts of other things. You identify the problem, you practice, and you work at it.

      Reply
      1. Comms

        Absolutely, and it’s worth considering professional coaching as well. A component of my current role is public speaking in front of large audiences, which is something that I’d never done before.

        Attending a few professional sessions (titles like “Winning Presentation Skills”, “Speaking off the Cuff”, etc) gave me a lot of confidence in being able to cut out the ums, ahs and likes and to physically present myself with authority (how you stand, hold your arms, etc.).

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          I’m high school I did an intensive and intense leadership course that involved writing speeches and public speaking in small groups, on film. After each speech we went over the video in our group and people (kindly but honestly) pointed out ways we were undermining our messages – confusing writing, hunched body language, mumbling, gratuitous filler words, etc. It was really hard, but when you see yourself on video and get immediate feedback, it’s hard to argue.

          And of course you can fix verbal tics! I can think of 3 tics I’ve fixed in my own speech. My parent completely changed his very regional accent. Compared to that, of course you can learn to downtalk at the end of sentences. There are even professionals to help.

          Reply
          1. Anon anon anon

            Did they talk about what to do if there’s something like that that you can’t change? Like if your body language comes across a certain way because of a physical issue or if you have a speech impediment or an unusual sounding voice?

            Reply
      2. WeevilWobble

        But removing fillers is very different from changing the very tone of your voice. Adopting an English accent would be easier.

        Reply
        1. Bibliovore

          One can practice. I used to have student teachers every semester. Having an uptick is detrimental to classroom management. I would observe and write down sentences that sounded like questions that should have been statements and talk about how we sound to the students was sometimes as important as what was said. I would request that they practice to get in the habit of not upticking.

          Reply
          1. Bibliovore

            I would have the same coaching style for the student teacher who dropped a “dude” at the end of every sentence. And yes, there was the grad student that sounded like Bart Simpson when he did his demo lesson.

            Reply
        2. fposte

          The difference is that changing the pitch of your voice is easier :-). People change their pitch all the time in English for inflection, and of course we manage it whenever we sing. Unless somebody’s actually tone deaf, it’s easy to identify a pitch change. To break a habit of a pitch is harder, but unlike trying to change an accent it’s still using pitches that you use in daily life; you’re just applying them differently.

          Reply
        3. Rusty Shackelford

          I don’t think changing the tone of your voice is all that difficult. Upspeakers don’t typically use it with everything that comes out of their mouths. So, since they’re already capable of not upspeaking, it’s simply a matter of being more conscious of when they’re doing it.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Yes, exactly. I have some colleagues that employ it a lot and I find I do it more with them; I then recalibrate to get back to the frequency that I prefer.

            Reply
    2. Ramona Flowers

      It’s not one extreme or the other! After all, the things you learn in childhood change as you grow older – you didn’t instantly learn to talk like an adult, right? Your speech is a work in progress, not a thing that’s done and ticked off. It can change over time, for all sorts of reasons.

      Reply
    3. Eliza

      If it’s something you’re having difficulty changing on your own, there are actually professional voice therapists who can give you helpful techniques. Many people assume that speech and voice therapy is just for people with speech disorders, but they can help just about anyone who wants to change the voice they produce, including clients who want their foreign accents to stand out less, transgender clients who want their voice to match their gender presentation, or clients with vocal habits that they want to unlearn.

      Reply
      1. Tau

        In fact, speech and voice therapy can be better suited to that than to actual speech disorders… *wry*

        (I have a speech disorder where all known therapy approaches have a notoriously low long-term effectiveness rate; I’ve tried about three or four different ones with no lasting success. From what I’ve seen, accent coaching etc. tends to work out a lot better!)

        Reply
        1. Just employed here

          Yup, I couldn’t roll my r’s as a child (which is considered a speech disorder where I’m from), and the speech therapy I received as a child didn’t help at all. Then I later took singing lessons, and suddenly learned to roll my r’s quite naturally!

          Reply
          1. Scotty Smalls

            I had my frenulum cut so I could say “s” and” t” sounds as a child. I graduated quickly from speech therapy after that. But since rolling R’s is not necessary for English, my speech therapist did not focus on it. I can only roll some Rs, but otherwise speak excellent Spanish.

            Reply
            1. Cassie

              I had years of useless speech therapy to say “s” without a lisp. In my thirties I got braces (which my childhood dentist had said weren’t necessary. He was wrong.) and the orthodontist said that there was no way I would have ever been capable of saying “s” with proper form unless my giant front teeth were moved. He actually said “That speech therapist was an idiot.”

              Reply
          2. Marillenbaum

            By any chance, is your native language Czech? I have a few Czech colleagues, and speech therapy to help children pronounce ř is something they’ve mentioned as being fairly common.

            Reply
        2. Sylvan

          I’ve seen that happen for people with stutters, especially. A bunch of people in my family stutter (I barely do). Trying to stop stuttering seems to cause more social anxiety than it does major speech changes. I think we’re going off on a tangent here, but I’m up for talking about this in an open thread, if anyone wants to.

          Reply
          1. anon for this

            (Yeah, this would be an interesting topic for an open thread! I’ve stuttered all my life, I think, but no parent or teacher or anyone along the way ever said to me “hey, I think you should get that checked out.” So I always thought it was “too minor to be a real issue,” until realizing just recently — in my late 20s — that it is actually interfering with my life in certain ways. I’ve looked into speech therapy and heard about its failures, and at the moment I’m perpetually on the lookout for resources/ways to deal.)

            Reply
            1. Tau

              Yeah, mine is also a stutter, I was just being unnecessarily mysterious. :) In general I’ve had bad experiences with speech therapy and am pretty much of Sylvan’s opinion, but there are nuances. I’d love to talk about this more on the open thread!

              Reply
    4. Sylvan

      You can control your tone, like your volume or anything else about your speech (barring some speech impediments, and I have yet to hear of one causing this issue).

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Yes. It’s not like failing to hit the “i” exactly right in one word, where someone can’t hear the difference no matter how many rounds they go of “Julian.” “No, Julian.” “Julian.” “No, it’s Julian.” “Julian.” “Ju-li-an.”

        But where you put the rising or falling intonation is in your control. You can learn not to say “If we move the spout? It will be against regulations? And all the teapots will be seized? And burned?”

        As 99.99 said upthread–if the speaker is right, it sounds like they guessed and it was luck, so they don’t get credit for it.

        Reply
    5. TL -

      Slow down, listen to yourself and practice.
      I can, to an extent, turn my Texan accent on or off (it’s mostly unconscious), drop likes and ums, speak slower or faster, and change the timbre of my voice depending on what I’m trying to convey. A lot of it was intentional practice and is now habit for particular audiences.

      Reply
    6. Ramona Flowers

      Also. I have some experience in doing media interviews for TV and radio, and some training in psychotherapy. The combination of the above has resulted in me almost never saying um, ah, like, etc. I just pause when I need to.

      Reply
    7. Runner

      Uptalk is something a person can stop doing. Not every sentence can or should be turned into a question. It’s certainly not an immutable “trait” or characteristic a person is born with.

      Reply
    8. Knitting Cat Lady

      You probably change the way you talk according to the situation already.

      German has many dialects. And I’m a dialect speaker. My dialect is pretty far away from ‘standard’ German. So if I spoke dialect all the time most people would have trouble understanding me. Because I live 600 km away from the region my dialect is from.

      I also pitch my voice lower when I’m at work.

      It takes effort, but it can be done! Maybe ask friends to remind you when you use uptalk?

      Reply
      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

        Dialects are different in different languages. I’ve noticed that in German they can be extremely different from the standard language, almost like a different language? In this kind of situations you of course have to learn the standard language too, simpy to be understood. However dialects aren’t always like this. I’m a native Finnish speaker and my normal speech is quite dialect influenced, and I’ve never yet come across a situation where another native Finn wouldn’t understand me, unless I use some very local word. I also understand perfectly people who come from the other side of the country, except rarely some unfamiliar words, but accent or modifying standard words are never a problem. So there’s no reason to try to get rid of them.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Yeah, German gets super localized, and the regional variation can have centuries of weight for validity. But my belief is that in school everybody has to speak High German rather than regional. (Well, in Germany and Switzerland, not sure about Austria.) So it seems like people have that kind of commonality, to be able to switch to high German if confused by regional dialects.

          In US English the common accent is Midwestern, so most tv and radio announcers have or acquire that accent. In Spanish I was told the most really understood accent across countries is Colombian, so channels with international audiences lean toward Colombian events. And that’s the limit of my knowledge on the subject.

          Reply
          1. Julia

            It’s called Standard German these days, I believe, because High German is actually a dialect itself.
            And in Switzerland, from what I have heard when I lived there as a German, some subjects are taught in the local variety and the teachers who moved there from a different canton (state) or from Germany MUST learn the local dialect.

            Reply
    9. Em Too

      It’s doesn’t have to be wholesale change, it’s using the right tone for the right situation. I make the most of my nice flat North England vowels when I don’t want to be argued with, and as someone suggested above, deliberately add in the upwards inflection when I do want a response.

      Reply
    10. Agent Diane

      There’s lots of tips below (I’m always working to slow myself down). But most of us modulate our speech based on context – my ‘best phone voice’ drops my regional vowels in favour of BBC English. To the extent that my friends/close colleagues comment if I use it on them by accident. I also used it to get two seats together for me and child on an overcrowded train because OMG, people respect that voice.

      So OP1’s team member could focus on slowing down (always a good trick to make your responses more powerful) and listening to how newsreaders talk – it feels strange at first but being able to switch a “best phone voice” on really helps.

      (There’s a whole other conversation about the socio-economic politics of how you speak in the UK and biases based on that, but let’s not.)

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        Yes, accents in the UK communicate all kinds of extra messaging. Watching BBC shows, I can tell I’m missing obvious accent clues that tell people class, social status, education, etc. In the US we have some small traces of that but not like there, it seems. It sounds so oppressive, like people are constantly fighting to keep each other firmly pigeonholed and in their place.

        Reply
        1. Agent Diane

          I think the rest of this thread has demonstrated that there are all kinds of cues in American speech style too, and code-switching is common, so I’m not really sure why you’ve the view UK culture is more oppressive than your own. I’m also not sure it’s relevant or helpful for OP to be getting all judgemental.

          Reply
    11. DiscoTechie

      When I moved from Michigan to North Carolina for my first after college job, I had to consciously slow down my speech pattern. My rapid fire chatter pattern (totally normal for perky people of the Midwest) was so out of sync with NC that my office mate asked me if I spoke another language when I was talking to my husband on the phone. This also include a few noun changes and overall I think it was a great change for my professional career. A slower modulated tone is more thoughtful than a chipper patter.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth West

        I rattle on very quickly sometimes when I’m excited and I have to deliberately slow down. I also get louder in those situations, so that’s something else to work on. Also, I am in dread of the middle-aged guttural voice and vocal fry creeping in unexpectedly, so I’ve been deliberately trying to speak in a slightly higher register. NOT like a teenager, not upspeak or hesitantly, just a little softer and a little higher. It’s more comfortable, as my voice tends to sound strained and sarcastic when I’m speaking in a lower register.

        I remember my college choir director was listening to us chat before class one day and he joked, “Why do sopranos sing so high and then growl when you speak?” LOL head voice vs. chest voice, I guess.

        Reply
    12. bobstinacy

      Personally uptalk doens’t bother me, it’s like an accent and I’m surprised that so many people are being so harsh about it.

      That being said we all have to change some of our habits when working, maybe we dress differently or keep our little tics more under control. Is being in a suit required to do office work? Nope. But that doesn’t mean you can rock up to a formal office in flip flops.

      I have a flat, deep voice when speaking and as a woman that leads to me being considered aggressive or angry even when saying innocuous things. It’s dumb, I’m a perfectly pleasant person, I just have a deeper voice than what is considered normal and get penalized for it. So I learned a while ago to add a bit more range while speaking at work and I also tend to use language that is less harsh sounding to the point of almost being infantile sometimes.

      But this is why code switching is a beautiful thing; I flip into my work voice/speech mannerisms while working and as soon as I’m out the door I switch back. I have to change while at work but like hell I’ll bring my work persona anywhere but work.

      Reply
      1. Koko

        Growing up I worked at a pizza place where the most coveted job was working on the phones as opposed to cleaning or making pizzas. They usually needed 3 people to man the phones in the evenings. One slot always went to the only guy who was billingual. And one slot always went to me, the only female on staff, because my female voice was perceived as more pleasant on the phone.

        Thing is, my phone voice is probably 3-4 steps higher than my normal speaking voice which is on the lower side (I actually trained myself out of vocal fry years ago, but I’m not that much higher). And I’ve noticed over the years that I had started unconsciously using my “phone voice” when I’m giving a presentation or some other sort of public speaking. UIt’s my “pleasant, easy to listen to” voice that is more well-received when I have an essentially captive audience. In normal back-and-forth conversations I don’t alter my register.

        Reply
        1. bobstinacy

          I know that feeling – my phone voice is basically as close to valley girl as my poor vocal cords can go without going into a nasal register. I get wide eyed looks from people who know me and hear my phone voice because it’s very different than my regular voice.

          Public speaking is more like my work voice, but sounding more like a man seems to be more okay when addressing a room than dealing one on one with coworkers and subordinates.

          Reply
      2. Feotakahari

        Heh. Reminds me of a girl I knew in seventh grade who had what I can only describe as resting acid voice. She could politely greet someone and ask how they were, and it sounded like she wanted to flay the flesh off their bones. It took me months to figure out I hadn’t offended her somehow.

        Reply
        1. bobstinacy

          I get a lot of “I thought you hated me when we first met” from people. I don’t! I hate very few people! But the voice plus resting b*tch face and social anxiety I’m apparently quite intimidating.

          Reply
    13. Koko

      Just practice saying the same sentence in different ways, and be conscious of whether you’re reverting to your unconscious habit when you’re speaking.

      I wasn’t really an uptalk person but I trained myself out of vocal fry and saying “like” every other word very early in my career. It took maybe 1-2 months of conscious effort and then my speech patterns were just changed for good.

      Reply
    14. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Hey, if I could iron a thick Rhode Island accent into smooth standard Mid-Atlantic, I’m sure the employee can eliminate a rising inflection.

      (I say this flippantly, but it was really difficult for a while. I still hesitate over what to ask for directions to when I’m out in public and thirsty.)

      Reply
      1. another Liz

        Michigan native here, I remember being in Boston on a school trip and chatting with some local kids, comparing pronunciation of different words, and their crushing disappointment that I didn’t say “boat” any differently.

        Reply
        1. Perse's Mom

          WI native who moved to AZ in high school. They were very sad that I didn’t pronounce “roof” like “ruff.”

          Most of us learn to modify our speech in some way. My small town WI accent comes out when I talk to others with a similar accent, and I probably always sound like I’m Midwestern no matter what, but my day to day accent is much more neutral (think major news network anchor – very few of them have immediately identifiable accents).

          Reply
    15. Allypopx

      I’ve changed my speech patterns a number of times. I moved a lot as a child and naturally developed the speech patterns of the areas I’ve lived in. So I can go from a semi-candian Maine accent to a city southern accent to a Boston accent to an accent that’s almost British, and it tends to come out depending on the people around me and how garish I’m being (I get a wee bit southern when I drink, and I say y’all a lot).

      People codeswitch quite naturally. Once you take some time to think about your speech patterns and put effort into keeping your tone from upswinging, you’ll probably find that in a work environment you just don’t do it, even if you still do in more relaxed settings. Do you have other things that change depending on environment? Better posture or more organized language when you speak to a boss or client? Simpler language with children? More vulgar language with your friends? Try to incorporate your tone into those other things you subconsciously self check.

      As others have suggested, speech therapy is an option if this ends up being something you struggle with.

      Reply
    16. Fabulous

      Changing the way you talk starts with being aware of the patterns you use. I’ve changed two things about the way I talk throughout the years:

      First, as a teenager I used the word “like” a lot. Like, a lot. Because teenager, duh. My dad HATED this word and yelled at me every time I said it. I became extremely aware of how often I used Like because he had something to say every time. It was that awareness that allowed me to remove it (mostly) from my speech.

      Second, I actually changed my accent. I’m from the midwest and my southern family members always made fun of my “Michigan” accent. As most midwesterners, I didn’t think I had an accent, but then I listened to my voice in a recording. Holy moly did I have an accent! Short (or is it long?) A’s with diphthongs where there are no diphthongs (meaning the “a” in After sounded like “ehy-ah-fter”), cutting off the end consonants in words like Different (sounded like “diffren”), or not even saying middle T’s in words like Mountain (sounded like “moun-uhn”). Again, once I was aware I was doing these things, I was able to adjust my speech.

      Awareness is the key to change!

      Reply
      1. beanie beans

        This is what I was going to say – just having someone point out a speech habit can be very powerful. Once it’s pointed out, you start noticing on your own how often you do it, which makes it so much easier to change over time.

        I think this can be handled more like pointing out that the OP noticed she has this habit, and that it can come off as confusing or (insert other consequences here). It doesn’t have to be a conversation that sounds like “you have to change the way you talk.”

        Reply
    17. Susanne

      Oh, come on! We all are capable of changing how we are talk. (See code-switching.) When I’ve given presentations internationally to audiences who are not native English speakers (though still fluent), I’m perfectly capable of adjusting my normal East Coast rapid-fire to a slower pace and deliberately avoiding expressions or figures of speech that would not be intuitive to non-native English speakers (“raining cats and dogs,” that kind of thing). This is not intrinsic to who you are as a person or in this case not is uptalk intrinsic to being a young woman.

      Reply
    18. Grad Student

      I used to uptalk all the time as a kid, and my parents frequently replied “are you asking us or telling us?” when I was clearly telling them something but intoning it as a question. I don’t think I uptalk much, if at all, any more, so presumably that worked!

      Also, definitely don’t stop speaking so as not to annoy people, regardless of how you speak! It’s more about projecting confidence anyway (as Alison said) to bolster professional relationships, not about annoyance.

      Reply
    19. BlueWolf

      It takes a conscious effort. She probably doesn’t think about the way she’s talking and how it sounds to others, but if he brings it to her attention and she’s more aware of it then she can try to modulate her pitch. Not to suggest that this is the way to go about it, but my friends in college teased me for saying “pop” instead of soda, so I started saying soda instead. It’s not exactly the same, but once I was conscious of it I could change.

      Reply
    20. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

      Based on this thread I believe it’s possible to change the way you talk. But it seems like a LOT of work. When the problem is relatively small and the solution is time-consuming and possibly expensive, I’m not convinved that it’s worth the effort. But, as I’m not a native English speaker I don’t fully understand the whole issue, how much this “uptalk” thing gives a negative impression and how easy or difficult it would be to get rid of it. In my experience though, if I try to change the way I speak, then a lot of my energy goes to how I say things and less energy to what I actually say – which isn’t ideal in a work context!

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I suppose the effort level will vary from person to person and cause to cause, but I don’t think it’s likely to be time-consuming or expensive; people code-switch with facility all over the place, and this isn’t that different from saying “Hey, tone down the swearing.” As long as they can clearly identify the rising inflection in question, which for most people isn’t that hard to do, it just takes a little practice to use a more declarative tone as a frequent substitute.

        This really isn’t asking to change somebody’s essential nature, and changes in communication are a common work request.

        Reply
      2. Specialk9

        All of us change the way we talk all the time. It’s called code-switching, like when you talk with your baby one way, your boss another way, your mom another, and your lover another way. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s really obvious. But we’re most of us capable of it, barring problems (eg a family member didn’t get tubes in his ears for childhood ear infections, and has subtle hearing loss that impacts his foreign accents and some subtle speech stuff).

        Reply
      3. Fictional Butt

        It isn’t just a “negative impression”- it can be genuinely confusing. Imagine if someone sent you an email where every sentence ended in a question mark.

        Reply
    21. theletter

      Don’t stop speaking!

      I personally think that the questioning uptick is a result of verbal tone policing. The ambiguous question gives the recipient more authority and deference, whereas stating your statement as a fact maintains the speaker’s authority on the matter. It’s not just women, however, who do this: I remember Mark Zuckerburg had a strong uptick when he began interviewing on camera.

      You can practice giving your statements with more authority by listening to authoritative people and then immediately emulating their speech patterns. Listen for a dropping tone at the end of the sentence.

      A great place you can practice this is when you’re ordering food. When you’re ordering, remember that it’s not “I’ll have some chardonnay if you have any, if that’s alright with you?” but “Bring me chardonnay, for that is what I want. If you don’t have it, I assume you will provide me with alternatives, but if chardonnay is available, please bring it here without delay or hindrance because that is our social contract for this interaction.”

      Reply
  4. Ramona Flowers

    #2 I don’t think surfing the internet for a day is the crime of the century, but it’s probably not worth the paranoia it’s understandably caused you.

    Next time you have downtime maybe check in a bit more proactively with your manager about how to spend it? Or perhaps discuss it ahead of time. Having too little to do can be stressful – it’s not only overwork that causes stress, so maybe talk to your manager about how to handle that in future?

    What I will say is stop sending complaints about work over software you use at work. It’s a wise idea to just avoid that kind of thing as it can come back to bite you!

    Reply
    1. Foreign Octopus

      This is good advice. It sounds like you’re a hard worker when you have tasks to do, so asking for more when you’re on downtime is a good idea.

      I once did this as well. A 9-hour work day shifted into less than an hour’s work with the rest spent surfing the internet because I was so bored and disillusioned with the office culture, the tasks I’d been given, and everything. It’s been two years but my stomach still twists at the thought of what I did, so I completely understand your feeling, OP.

      Reply
    2. Xarcady

      In addition to asking around for work, I keep a little list of things to do when there’s nothing to do. It includes things like cleaning my desk (actually taking everything off and scrubbing it down), taking an online tutorial on some software we use, cleaning out files on my hard drive, refreshing my knowledge of company style guides/standards/procedures–it never hurts to re-read this sort of stuff. You tend to forget the parts that you don’t use everyday. Do all the little tasks that everyone says they will get to “someday.”

      Back when you got a manual with software, I used to spend down time at one job reading the manuals. Learned all sorts of shortcuts and had a pretty good idea of what the software could do, most of which we weren’t doing. Got a promotion and a raise and a new job title because I knew the software inside and out and was able to make changes that sped up some processes and saved time and money. Knowledge is power.

      Reply
    3. Tax Accountant

      I must be awful bc I’ve done that during slow periods. Hell, I was burnt out for an entire summer after tax season (last year) and spent more time surfing than doing real work. And I don’t feel guilty about it one bit.

      (I DO feel guilty doing this [so I don’t!] at another job where I’m paid hourly so… YMMV)

      Reply
    4. Elizabeth West

      People at Exjob, including me, often had to wait for someone to get back to them, wait for meetings to conclude, wait for client calls, etc. Many times, I’d walk by someone’s cube and see them on the internet. I spent a lot of time on AAM and nobody said a damn word to me about it.

      I don’t think IT cared unless you were downloading or streaming (we weren’t supposed to). Managers didn’t care unless you weren’t getting your work done. It depends on office culture, but it’s always a good idea to check with your boss when you’re at a loose end.

      Reply
    5. ErinW

      It is ABSOLUTELY true that not having enough to do can be stressful. Unfortunately, this is just how some jobs are, especially jobs where you have an off-season, or jobs where you often have to wait for feedback on things before you can proceed, or jobs where you are on shift to handle any things that might come up but nothing has yet. I have surfed the internet all day. I have read full novels on Project Gutenberg while at my desk. I have earned about eight million quiz badges on Sporcle. During work hours, I have made personal calls, balanced my checkbook, bought Christmas presents on Amazon.

      This may not reflect everyone’s workplace, but I do not think I am unusual. I don’t think any of this makes me a bad person or even a bad worker. I feel bad that this letter writer seems to think they have done something fundamentally awful when they absolutely have not.

      Reply
  5. JT

    #1 I’m from New Zealand and I talk like that all the time, as do most of my peers and higher ups. Its really common here, so maybe she has kiwi relatives? That said, the cultural context is different and sometimes you have to adjust your norms to where you’re living if its detrimental to your work.

    Reply
  6. DCBA

    Related to #4 – If there was a large gap between undergraduate and graduate work, and you want to remove the graduation dates from your resume, does that make a difference? I went to school part-time for years, so like the OP, my undergraduate graduation date makes me appear a lot younger than I am. I’ll be finishing my masters shortly, so it will be a recent degree. As such, do I need to leave all dates on there?

    Reply
    1. Koko

      A couple of thoughts about this as someone who screens resumes.

      First off, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to appear younger than you are. The only reason that youth would generally count against you is because it’s typically correlated with a lack of workplace experience.

      So if you were attending school part-time while working, you’re presumably going to have that work experience on your resume. If you included your graduation dates I would be able to identify your situation (non-traditional adult college student) pretty quickly based on your work history predating your graduation dates. While most college students graduate in their young 20s, older students are not so unusual that a hiring manager will be unfamiliar with or unable to recognize that scenario.

      Reply
      1. DaniCalifornia

        This is very reaffirming. I am in my early 30s and will be finishing a combined B.S./M.S. hopefully by 2019 so I have listed my school on my resume. Right now it currently says ‘expected dates dec 2018/dec 2019’ and I always wondered what people thought of that. I also have work history that is relevant going back 11 years on my resume so I was hopeful that I do come across as a non traditional student. Thank you!

        Reply
        1. Koko

          And I honestly give a little bit more weight to degrees obtained later in life! Returning/later-life students usually made the choice to go independently, paid their own way, and worked really hard as a result. It says a lot of good things about the person’s drive and commitment.

          Reply
    2. CM

      I think it depends whether you want to emphasize how recent your master’s is (for example, some jobs target recent graduates for recruiting). If so, I think you might want to put dates on both. If not, you could leave dates off both. Just having a date for your master’s would be weird though. You could always mention your recent master’s in your cover letter.

      Reply
  7. Janet

    #2: that comment screams to me “we are watching you”

    It happened to me once, I had started slacking and soon after some of my bosses comments were oddly specific to some of the stuff I had done on the computer and my workload.

    I brushed it off and was massacred at my review. He knew I didn’t have enough work to fill the day yet there I was typing away all day on my computer. He was watching my usage to see what I did with my time.

    He was trying to give me a chance to correct my behaviour without outright embarrassing me – and I ignored it because he couldn’t possibly have been watching. The only reason he was watching was because I had nothing to do and wasn’t asking for work.

    Take this as a clear warning and be extra diligent for the next while about what you do on your computer and how you are perceived. Always assume you are being watched.

    Reply
    1. Grad Student

      “without outright embarrassing me”

      But wouldn’t it have been less embarrassing for him to mention privately that you’re clearly completing things ahead of time and offer you more work, rather than to tell you off later? (Assuming he had more work for you to do, and if not, what does he care what you do with unfillable time?)

      Reply
    2. Feotakahari

      I cannot view this as anything other than bad management. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this column, it’s that you do not use “hints” when correcting an employee’s behavior. Your first attempt to correct behavior should always be an explicit statement of what they should do differently.

      Reply
      1. CatCat

        Totally agreed.

        I always let my manager know when I have capacity for new assignments. If there’s nothing new at the moment (assignments are kind of ad hoc, as requests come in), then there’s nothing new at the moment. I use down time to organize and do some self training tasks, but I also do things like read the news, come here, etc. When the next assignment comes in though, that’s what I do.

        I think it would be really bizarre if my manager chided me for my internet usage when I have made my capacity for assignments known and am a productive employee turning out quality work product when there are assignments.

        Reply
      1. Anon anon anon

        It’s not even spyware. Usually they have remote access to all the computers that they own and that are part of the network. It’s a basic part of that setup; it just isn’t used in an obvious way or talked about very much.

        Reply
  8. Trout 'Waver

    In regards to #5:

    “I also wouldn’t assume they’re terribly disorganized; this stuff just tends to drag out.”

    Sending a text message update once a week to a candidate you presumably want to work with in the future is the lowest of bars to clear and they’re completely failing at it. That does send a message. Maybe it is just the recruiter that is terribly organized or maybe it’s the whole workplace. But someone on their side is terribly organized.

    Reply
    1. La Revancha

      That’s not what happened, the OP sent the text message and the recruiter responded. There’s nothing disorganized about responding to an inquiry about an interview. The recruiter cannot control when the VP is or isn’t available.

      Reply
      1. Grad Student

        I think Trout ‘Waver meant that the recruiter should have proactively sent updates to the OP rather than only responding when the OP initiated contact.

        Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            That isn’t how it typically works. You can argue that it should, but it’s not the norm for how recruiters usually handle this, so I can’t fault her for just sticking to the norms of her field.

            Reply
            1. Trout 'Waver

              In this specific case, the recruiter specifically said that they were looking to hire within a month and to check back in a week. The OP did so and the recruiter stopped providing updates.

              When you give a timeline, however vague, you give updates when you miss that timeline. That’s just basic business etiquette.

              Reply
              1. OP#5

                OP#5 here. The reason for my frustration wasn’t that the interview kept getting moved—I know that hiring can take longer than expected, people are busy, and schedules are hard to coordinate. I was being told things like “The final round will be next Thursday and Friday. Do you have a date and time preference?” And then Thursday and Friday would pass with no communication. Just a simple “We have to move the interviews and don’t know exactly when” would have been nice. If the recruiter hadn’t been so specific about timing, I wouldn’t have been so frustrated. For me, it was a basic etiquette issue, as you said.

                As it turns out, I did receive an offer from another organization, and a few days later the recruiter contacted me to set up a final interview. Since I already had an offer I was pleased with, I asked what the budgeted salary range was to see it even made sense to go in. The offer I had was middle to high end of their range, so I decided to forgo the final interview. I start my new job in a week and a half!

                Reply
    2. CM

      I don’t think that’s the norm. Sending a text message to a candidate once a week sounds like a lot to me and I would not expect it from a company I applied to. In fact, the candidate following up once a week sounds like way too much to me, and I would be pretty annoyed by week #3 and think this person was expecting way too much attention. I think if the recruiter said, “We’re going to do second round interviews and we want to hire by the end of the month,” the candidate should wait at least two weeks before following up. And then when told, “We haven’t scheduled the interviews yet but we definitely want you there,” I wouldn’t follow up again for a month or so.

      Reply
      1. Colette

        Yeah, that sounds annoying to the candidates, particularly since most of them will say “no new yet”. And it invites questions, which likely don’t have answers.

        Reply
      2. Trout 'Waver

        Given the impact on both parties and the fact that there is intent on both sides, a simple text message once a week is nothing. You put more effort into your comment here than would be required to notify an applicant.

        “Nothing to report” is a perfectly fine update.

        Reply
          1. Trout 'Waver

            A couple text messages or e-mails is an iota compared to the work of screening resumes, scheduling interviews, and following up with the employer. And all of those steps precede sending reasonable updates out.

            At any given point, a recruiter does not have hundreds of applicants who have already interviewed, are still in the running, have been told a date that hiring decision will be made, and that date has now passed.

            I’m not saying that a recruiter owes weekly updates to everyone who has ever applied. That’s just silly. I’m saying that, given what’s been communicated to the OP, it’s a sign of disorganization that they haven’t been updated. I’m honestly unsure why I’m getting so much push back from what seems like basic etiquette.

            Reply
            1. Colette

              You’re really underestimating the time involved. It’s not a couple of minutes to send a message -it’s checking with the hiring manager to see where she is in the process (oh, she hasn’t gotten back to me – is she even in today?), getting the right list of candidates waiting for an answer, composing a brief, polite, and non-commital message, sending it out, and then dealing with replies from 10% of the applicants, some of whom are polite and some who accuse you of lying or press for more info or complain that you should have updated them sooner.

              And then you have to do the parts of your job that matter to the business (this doesn’t, unless you’re losing all of your stellar candidates because of it.)

              Reply
      3. OP#5

        I normally wouldn’t have followed up so frequently. For all my other interviews I would just send one follow-up and be done with it. But at my first interview the recruiter told me to text her with any questions, and I was only following up once the timelines that she had set had passed. I realize that I was probably a little 0ver-eager (I had been job searching for 8 months at that point) and can definitely see how it could be perceived as annoying if I was on the other side of it… this specific situation just felt different than all my other interviews.

        Reply
  9. Former Computer Professional

    In the early days of the web it became very common for employers to monitor employee’s web surfing, and many of them would (and still do!) put up firewalls to block traffic to various websites and domains. Many set up policies about “if you’re caught looking at offensive sites.”

    This becomes hilarious-in-hindsight in part when people try to go to perfectly innocent websites (like the infamous Pen Island website), and in part when people accidentally go to a porn site (the website for Dick’s Sporting Goods is NOT dicks-dot-com) and be convinced that the single event was going to get them fired.

    Reply
    1. Janelle

      This reminds me of when firewalls would block out sites you’d actually need to use. Before google became the go tour firewall blocked me from searching on yahoo, using at a search engine. I guess the word yahoo is very sexual. Ha. We would have to type yahoo into another search engine for it to go around the firewall. Silly. Glad those days are over.

      I do find now more that most employers don’t monitor to such extremes as it is so much more common to search simple, necessary work related things online.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        I would strongly caution you not to assume that work *isn’t* watching you. (Meaning, they are very likely watching you.)

        Reply
  10. mAd Woman

    In regards to #3 about photography, it seems like it would be really confusing to the manager to first say “sure, let’s see how to prioritize tasks” and then once she gets the project to say “ok now let’s revisit my salary”. I would be pretty irritated by that, especially if I had specifically asked before the pitch if we could use those skills.

    Reply
    1. Anon to me

      The LW didn’t agree to use those skills unless other things were delegated to others. If the other work isn’t delegated away then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to indicate that given the 12+ hour days that incorporating the photography into their role now entails that they will need to discuss what sort of overtime will be offered.

      But, in the end unless the LW is willing to walk then I don’t see thing situation changing. Because clearly it didn’t even occur to the LW’s boss that adding a huge amount of work even after the LW said it wasn’t possible was no big deal.

      Reply
    2. nonymous

      I disagree with the idea that OP#3 can’t ask for a raise. My supervisor gets paid more than I but we work the same number of hours. Does he get more done than me? Yes, if you consider that his work has greater impact, but no if you’re asking whether he just does my duties + extra. He does different tasks and he has a different educational/technical background than I, and those duties hold greater value with my employer.

      It’s one thing for a company to save money by delegating work to staff instead of hiring an external consult, but it’s a different story when they pay admin rates and expect graphic design services. Imo, an employee who does a mix of admin + graphic design work should be paid a rate somewhere between the two industry averages. OP#3 can and should address the inflation of their duties as part of a routine performance evaluation process – hopefully the company recognizes the value of nurturing in-house talent vs waiting for staff to leave and then having to hire at a higher market rate.

      Reply
      1. #3 OP

        I would ask for a raise if I knew we had the budget for it. My boss has expressed that she’d like to be in a position to pay me more, which I appreciate for her awareness of the value I bring to the company, but it makes moments like this harder when I’m being asked to do a lot more and know that I won’t get compensated for it.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Just some salary feedback. $50k in consulting is what we pay for entry level, recent college grads with no work experience. That’s in a medium sized city. So if that’s what you’re getting for doing 2.5 senior level jobs, perhaps you might look for other work. If you live in a small town, look for remote work. Under $50k is low for your workload and level.

          Reply
  11. Vaca

    I’m confused by the advice to #3. Let’s assume she follows the advice and brings up the ideas of dropping 2 or 3 to the back of the list. In my experience, this will be met with indifference until 2 and 3 are needed, at which time the OP will get thrown under the bus. The new responsibilities need to get spelled out on paper and the other tasks formally delegated. As for the current project, you have a hell of a lot more leverage now, before that project is done, then you will after it is completed…

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      Yes, this. Especially in a workplace that seems to already be demonstrably understaffed and desperate to stay afloat. Employers who are in this trap rarely seem to make good decisions and have short memories when they tell you you can deprioritize projects.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you have a decent boss, that’s not how this goes. Decent bosses have conversations like this all the time, and stick to them. If your boss is terrible, then sure, yes.

      Reply
      1. #3 OP

        I think I could definitely have this conversation with my boss…I just need to make sure I have notes on it so if there is a moment of “short memory”, I can point back to what was said earlier.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          I like to follow up all verbal discussions with an email to everyone involved saying, “Thanks for meeting today. To summarize, we decided X, Y, and Z.” I write out the decisions we made, a brief explanation of why, and the action items that came out of the conversation along with who is responsible for each one and when it needs to be completed.

          It’s usually only 3-5 lines and doesn’t take long, and I can’t count how many times I’ve been grateful to have that paper trail. Both to cover my butt and also to aid my own memory when I’m juggling a lot of projects and some are getting delayed. I can relax and let the details of back-burner projects slip away because I know they’re all recorded in these short memo emails when I need to recall them.

          Reply
  12. For Real

    I hope #3 is getting paid overtime for those extra hours! From her description it doesn’t sound like she’s exempt.

    Reply
    1. #3 OP

      No, unfortunately. Money is tight around here, which is why I’m frustrated by the current situation: feels like being squeezed for as much as possible within that salary.

      Reply
      1. nonymous

        I have some acquaintances who are small business owners. The good ones are very clear in their profit sharing when new projects come on board – that is, more hours == more projects == more pay. Even when the economy tanked, they were able to say “I’m getting X% less for project type A which is why I need to cut your hours or reduce the subcontract value.”

        The ones who make me cringe inside are constantly pressuring staff & subcontractors to do the work for less. Their attitude is something between “market forces” and “my employee/sub is an adult and can say no (but I’ll try every time to find the cheapest)”. Ya know, ’cause they need that big truck, boat and timeshare.

        Reply
  13. McWhadden

    I don’t mind the advice to #1 but I am curious about next steps.

    Changing the way you speak definitely takes time. This isn’t as easy as just removing word placements like “um” it’s really changing the your entire tone.

    So, will the manager then be able to reprimand someone for having a voice she doesn’t like? “We spoke about this and you aren’t improving!”

    Despite what people are suggesting it doesn’t actually indicate that she’s unsure or insecure. It’s just a common vocal tic only slightly more prominent in women (and, yes, it’s just a fact that it tends to draw more criticism when it’s a woman.)

    Again, I am fine with the advice if it is really going to hurt this woman’s career. But I’m curious how far this can go.

    Uptalk has become more common in the UK so this woman is not alone:

    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28708526

    Reply
    1. CM

      I think this is more a coaching thing than performance management. The OP doesn’t seem to be suggesting that the employee will be fired over this, just that it’s something the OP wants to address. So the next steps after bringing it to her attention would be either reminding her when it happens a lot again, or noting that her tone sounds more authoritative now and giving an example of how it made a difference.

      As many people have noted, this is such a nuanced issue with women. As a lawyer in a big law firm, I would both resent and appreciate coaching telling me to have a deeper voice and take up more space in the room. Resent because I shouldn’t HAVE to do those things to be taken seriously, but also appreciate because in reality, doing those things helped. I agree that it’s for the best to bring it up, but maybe you could also acknowledge that it’s not really fair for her to have to change her communication patterns.

      Reply
    2. Emily Spinach

      In my experience it takes a bit of attention and practice, but it’s not a lot harder than removing “ums” and “uhs.” I was told that I have a tendency to use uptalk (have been told several times!) always in a helpful way–the first time I took it really personally, as if the deliverer of the feedback was actually saying “you don’t come across as competent,” which isn’t what she meant. She meant that this was a changeable feature of my way of speaking that could improve how I come across. So I worked on it and in some contexts, when I’m aware of it, I can modulate differently. Recently another higher-up mentioned it, really gracefully: he said, “I noticed in X big presentation you had that inflection but tended to end on a falling inflection after a series of rising ones; in this more recent presentation there was less of the falling inflection and it made you sound less sure.” He also noted that in general, conversationally, he doesn’t see it as a problem–just in some contexts like interviews and presentations. Since I have presentations relatively infrequently, it’s useful to get a reminder sometimes.

      Reply
  14. Allypopx

    #5 I’ve been trying to navigate this too. I’m in school, but I also have five years of management experience. I won’t be applying for full time jobs for the next couple years, but I’m really worried about how my resume will read when it’s “Graduated with BA in 2019” “Full time management work 2012-2017” “Part time work 2017-2019”

    I know it will make sense, in theory. I’m not insulting hiring manager’s intellegence. I’m just worried it will work against me in terms of having a couple years out of the management game, or it will devalue my current work because it’s pre-degree, or if I still get the “recent grad” prejudices despite a work history?

    I know nontraditional school and career paths are becoming more common but I’m quite anxious in general and I worry I’m throwing myself off track somehow.

    (FWIW I should still be under 30 when I graduate, I think.)

    Reply
  15. SheLooksFamiliar

    LW#5, this comment stood out for me: ‘…but if I really was such an amazing “top of the list” candidate, I would think that they’d be moving a lot faster with me before I get snatched up by another company.’

    First, based on what you shared I doubt this recruiter is stringing you along. I’m not sure what more you can ask of her given the circumstances she’s outlined for you, except maybe less enthusiasm and fewer exclamation points. She told you she hasn’t been able to connect with the VP – the decision maker! the actual hiring manager! – and probably has nothing to share in the follow-ups you seem to expect on a weekly basis. She cannot make the VP magically cooperate with your expectations of what the interview process ‘should’ look like. Sure, it’s nice to get a weekly touch base, but she has nothing new to tell you. They’re in a holding pattern, they know you’re interested. Please accept it and do your thing while they do theirs.

    However, a little professional acumen could go a long with your candidacy. No insult intended, but here’s why hiring you may not be on the top of anyone’s list right now: It’s That Time Of Year. Employers are trying to manage calendar year close, performance reviews, workforce plans, budget reviews, 2018 strategy sessions, project reviews, regional meetings, other year-end wrap-up activity…in short, the recruiter is probably one of dozens of people trying to get a decision from the VP. This has happened to me in every single one of my 30+ years in my field. Which happens to be corporate staffing.

    Finally, you can be a ‘top of the list’ candidate, but they may have others. Usually, there isn’t one, single, outstanding candidate, there are a few of them. Maybe this recruiter is new to staffing and has you thinking you’re their first and only choice because she doesn’t know how to manage this process. Even if you are their only choice, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to think you are.

    If you really want this job, I hope you get it. Just relax a bit, please!

    Reply
  16. Anon to me

    #3 — If you haven’t started looking for a new job, I’d start now. Because I suspect that your boss won’t be taking anything off your plate. I hope that I’m wrong, but I’d be very surprised if that happened.

    Reply
  17. Kat A.

    #3 Perhaps the company can hire a couple of local college students as freelancers to do the photography. It’s easy to find someone who is either a photography major or has a good portfolio and has done work for a student newspaper or blog.

    Because students aren’t always available when you need them, it’s good to hire two.

    Reply
    1. #3 OP

      That’s not a bad idea! We’re in an area with a ton of art schools, so it might be worth finding a few students we could work with.

      Thank you!

      Reply
  18. Jam Today

    Upspeak is a scourge in verbal communication, and I absolutely reject any argument that says objecting to it is “sexist” because its “policing how women speak”. Its not how women speak. Its how *girls* speak, as in people who are young and inexperienced and don’t know what they’re talking about and are constantly seeking affirmation. If your job is to project assurance and knowledge, and you sound like you’re asking permission from everyone you speak with, you’re not doing your job. Fix it.

    Reply
    1. JB (not in Houston)

      It would be really, really nice if people could stop policing the way people (and especially women) talk. It’s one thing if it’s someone you’re just encountering briefly–like, say, someone taking your order at a restaurant. But if you are listening to a woman on the radio speak, for example, if the woman seems to know what she’s talking about, why do people have to roll their eyes and say “she sounds like she’s not confident! She sounds like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about!” when, if you listen to what she’s actually saying, it’s clear she does know what she’s talking about and she is perfectly confident about it. We’ve decided it doesn’t sound confident or intelligent because it doesn’t sound like what we imagine a straight American man sounds like, which is who we are supposed to pattern our speech after if we want to be confident and authoritative. It infuriates me.

      There’s nothing wrong with the OP telling her employee to work on it because clients may not like it (and she’s in a part of the UK where it’s apparently not common). But I wish that Americans in general would stop nitpicking and policing the way women speak. Not everything is gendered, but I guarantee that if uptalk was common in straight men, most people wouldn’t be writing letters radio shows telling them they shouldn’t have a certain guest on again because he spoke in uptalk.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I also think that considering something a problem because girls are associated with it (whether it be speech patterns or musical tastes) is a tendency that could stand a little pushback.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          Agreed – this is what I was trying to get at in my orphaned comment below, that saying “it’s not bad because women do it, it’s bad because girls do it” is not really any less sexist and is also kinda ageist now on top of that.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            Explain to me how it’s “ageist” to say that speech patterns associated with children can be detrimental if done by adults in business. Ageism refers to treating older people as less capable, it doesn’t refer to expecting children to be adults. They’re children. So for an adult to talk like a child at work is weird – I wouldn’t say “boo boo” or “potty” as an adult at the office. So – barring regional accents that uptalk routinely – if uptalk is associated with a child, that’s a problem.

            I’m not arguing about the sexism part, that’s been capably addressed elsewhere in this thread.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              It’s moreso the cross-section of ageism and sexism, in that young women in particular are viewed as an especially non-serious segment of the population. I don’t disagree that generally speaking, doing anything that makes yourself seem younger isn’t the best idea for your professional perception. However, our culture has a particularly negative association with young women that doesn’t exist as strongly with young men, which I saw reflected in the aggressively derisive way Jam Today described the behavior of girls: “don’t know what they’re talking about and are constantly seeking affirmation”. I think especially the latter is a quality most strongly associated with girls that doesn’t get applied to boys as frequently or broadly.

              You can see this reflected in how we view hobbies and interests like fashion that are commonly associated with teenage girls. They tend to be written off as more frivolous than those associated with teenage boys, like sports. But they’re both gazillion-dollar worldwide industries, and sports is literally just playing games, so why isn’t that viewed as a childish interest? It’s also a big part of the continual writing off of outlets like Teen Vogue, who have been producing some pretty great political pieces as of late but are frequently dismissed as being “for girls” and therefore invalid, without even consideration for the content of those pieces.

              Reply
              1. LBK

                Also, the legal EEOC definition of age discrimination only applies to people over 40, but I’m talking in a broad social justice context.

                Reply
        2. Parenthetically

          Yes, this. I teach teenagers, and it infuriates me that things they enjoy are considered stupid *simply because teenage girls enjoy them.* If there’s one thing likely to send me into a rage, it’s someone calling something girly or, god forbid, basic. Let girls like things!

          Reply
      2. Yorick

        But listening to someone’s words often doesn’t let you see that she knows what she’s talking about. If you’re listening to the radio, attending a lecture, or in a business meeting, this person is likely going over information that you don’t already know or at least don’t know well. If everything is phrased as a question, how can you know if she’s giving you the correct information? You’re going to start asking questions like: Is she making things up? Can I proceed with my work as though what she said is right? Did she prepare for our meeting at all?

        Reply
        1. McWhadden

          This is all a strawmen. Most people know full well whether it’s a question or not. We’ve all heard this pattern of speech before.

          Not one customer complained that they are confused, in this scenario. Nobody has suggested they can’t tell if the information given is accurate.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Agreed, I think this is one of those things where everyone says “I didn’t take it that way, but other people might,” except those hypothetical other people that have an issue often never materialize.

            Reply
      1. Trout 'Waver

        I think it’s annoying no matter who does it, tbh. I had male prof in college who ended ever single sentence he said in class with …OK? and it drove me up the wall.

        Reply
            1. McWhadden

              Because the person who started this thread developed to calling women who dare have this speech pattern girls.

              Who called him unprofessional?

              Reply
        1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

          I’ve had those professors too, and I have to say I find it a lot more annoying than uptalk. What grates the most is when they’ve just made a joke or something, and nevertheless end with “OK?” — signifying that it really is just a verbal tic and they’re not saying it for any real reason.

          I also had a private music teacher once who punctuated everything with “Do you understand what I’m saying?” I found it very odd and CYA-ish: did she think I would misunderstand and then get mad at her for not being clear? Or that I was looking for excuses to play things wrong and then pretend to misunderstand? None of which I would actually do! (This was irrational of me to think, I know, but those were the feelings I got when she talked to me!)

          Reply
      2. Specialk9

        Several people have given examples of men who routinely uptalked* and were professionally and socially impacted by it.

        But even if you disagree with the norm, it does this uptalking woman no good to ignore the impact on her career. Ignoring her verbal tic outright hurts her career (and independence and earning potential), under a guise of paternalistically protecting her. It’s paper feminism robbing actual feminism. She cares more about the money, let’s cut to the chase. Give her a heads up.

        *Not in countries with uptalk dialects

        Reply
        1. McWhadden

          The UK, where the LW is located, is a country with uptalk dialects.

          But where does it end? It’s not the only linguistic tic women are criticized for. So, you can’t uptalk, you can’t have a vocal fry, you can’t come off too aggressive, you can’t be too passive, don’t sound pretentious.

          How is it paper feminism to acknowledge that this is mostly a double standard? It doesn’t mean don’t talk to her. But acknowledge that the annoyance is largely based on sexism. Because it is.

          Reply
    2. Feotakahari

      Your distinction between women and girls reminds me of when people say they’re not criticizing black people because they’re just criticizing [N-word]. I don’t think the structure holds either way. As a person who looks male, I will never in my life have to put effort into not being perceived as a “girl.” Why should “women” have to work harder than me in order to not be dismissed as “girls”?

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        That doesn’t make sense. If you present male, people would insult your maturity by calling you a boy. Why would the inapplicability of a gendered immaturity insult be relevant to someone not of that gender?

        Reply
  19. Hector

    For the web surfer, whether or not you raised any IT flags would depend on what sites you went. Contrary to many’s beliefs of what goes on in IT, every thing you do with your computer isn’t actively watched. However, it can be. If you spent all-day watching Youtube videos, generally, the IT staff won’t know. However, they CAN go pull logs from the network equipment and find out that 1, someone was watching YouTube from Xam to Xpm, 2, it was this specific computer, and 3, that specific computer is assigned to you.

    Which sites are blocked will vary between employers. Generally, I can make the argument that FB, Twitter, YouTube, etc, can have legitimate business value. Porn sites do not.

    The moral of the story here is that so long as you don’t give your employer a reason to go looking, you’re fine.

    Sincerely,
    -An IT Administrator

    Reply
    1. K.

      My previous employer’s firewall was crazy strict and my department (marketing) was constantly arguing that we actually, literally needed to access social media sites, including YouTube (the company had a channel), to do our jobs. There was crazy turnover in the IT department (the head of it was terrible so he couldn’t keep people), and whenever new people came in they’d revoke that access and we’d have to start all over again.

      Reply
      1. Perse's Mom

        My current employer’s firewall is super strict. The vast majority of us don’t need access to social media or youtube, but some of us can’t even get to major news websites!

        And also the time they *required* everyone to watch a video that was on youtube… which ended up meaning we had to find the one completely random person who could get to it and set up a conference room to have a bunch of people watch it together.

        Reply
    2. Adlib

      I can confirm this is true in a lot of cases. I have good friends in IT at my company, and they’ve basically told me the same thing.

      Reply
    3. clow

      I have a question about this. It is very common at my company for people to watch youtube/netflix while they work. I do this a lot too. Would it then look like we have been slacking and just watching videos all day?

      Reply
      1. Cassie

        People with concentration-heavy jobs at my work tend to spend most of the day wearing earbuds and playing music through YouTube or a streaming service. This is accepted as long as it doesn’t take too much bandwidth. If it does take too much bandwidth, like right after a holiday when no one is on PTO, IT sends a campus-wide e-mail asking people to log off the web for a while.

        Reply
  20. LBK

    I still think that’s a pretty unkind, kiiiinda sexist characterization of girls, if for no other reason than surely you can understand how men are generally socialized to be more confident than women. I don’t fault younger women for being more unsure than younger men; if it’s a sign of lack of confidence, I think helping address that underlying issue is more of a concern than just fixing how they speak. My boss can fall into total valley girl speak sometimes but she’s one of the smartest, most assured people I’ve ever worked with – I think you run a high risk of getting false impressions if you judge someone on how they speak.

    Reply
    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Yeah, it’s a both/and, isn’t it?

      To be successful/taken seriously/treated as a professional, women (and people of color, and working class people, and… pretty much anyone who isn’t white, male, upper class, and from the East Coast) have to BOTH fight to change the dominant workplace culture AND figure out how to accommodate it in the meantime. It’s exhausting and frustrating.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Very well put. And I would also content that you’re in a better position to fight to change it if you’re code-literate and can make conscious decisions about whether to buck the hegemony, hence the benefit of coaching/advice here.

        Reply
      2. LBK

        Yes, it’s the frustrating catch-22 that often in order to change the system, you have to work within it to reach the point where you have authority to change it.

        Reply
    2. McWhadden

      Women are more likely to be cast a b**** or unpleasant if they are too confident, as well. It’s a fine line to walk.

      I am totally on board talking to her about this but I don’t understand why some people refuse to even acknowledge how difficult this can be for younger women who could be targeted for being too aggressive or being too meek all based on rather benign speech patterns.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Completely agreed. I think for her own benefit it can be good to learn to code switch, but I don’t get why people can’t at least agree that ideally she shouldn’t have to.

        Reply
  21. David Macarthur

    I couldn’t disagree with this one more, really it’s the first time I’ve ever taken the view of AAM as questionable. I’m 80% sure this will be due to a regional accent. the regional accent of the UK changes every 25 miles even within places like London and Manchester. Anybody dealing with a company in the UK that expects the queens english is going to be very confused.

    This read to me as the manager being annoyed by it and making up excuses to change it. No clients have had any problems, no clients have complained and it’s not caused any problems so far.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      Is uptalk specific to a particular area of the UK? I can’t think of somewhere in the US that it’s more common other than maybe Los Angeles.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        There’s discussion upthread about Birmingham and NI in the UK. I was hoping somebody had made a U.S. map of its prevalence but unfortunately not easily–I think 25 years ago it was much more Western but it’s pretty common across the country now.

        There’s an interesting NYT article from a couple years ago that upends some of our power perceptions about it. I’ve linked it in my name.

        Reply
      2. David Macarthur

        It has some areas where it’s focused but it’s across all four countries. Most common in Birmingham from my experience. In the US I only really associate it with San Fernando.

        Reply
    2. MommyMD

      I agree. I think it’s bothering the manager much more than the clients. I feel bad for her that everything that comes out of her mouth is irritating her boss. It’s a bad situation for her to be in. Dialects differ.

      Reply
      1. David Macarthur

        Well the thing for me is nowhere does it say it is bothering clients, only that they worry it will.
        “I worry that she’s confusing clients”

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Conversely, though, I’d say that this isn’t that big a deal to get feedback on, or at least it doesn’t have to be. The goal shouldn’t be to eradicate all uptalk but just to alert the employee that it’s happening overfrequently and that it’s recommended she lower the pitch at the end of more of her sentences. That’s not the kind of advice that will hurt her in other workplaces. Obviously the class minefield that is UK dialect is above my paygrade, but in the U.S. this wouldn’t have to be a demonstrable client problem for somebody to say “Hey, try speaking declaratively more often.”

          Reply
          1. David Macarthur

            If it’s put across in a constructive way. From a point of experience in the industry or as they perceive it, it may be better for the employee to adjust it then I agree.

            I don’t think that’s the manager’s intentions here, I think it annoys them and they want it to stop so are making excuses to change it.

            Reply
        2. Grad Student

          Eh, but if it were bothering clients or undermining their trust in the OP, would the clients mention it? I’d guess not–they might not even be consciously aware of it. Not saying that this means it is bothering clients, just that it would be pretty hard to know.

          Reply
          1. David Macarthur

            I suppose it depends on if they only ever speak with clients one on one or in groups. Assuming the employee updates the manager on interactions with the client in general or progress to whatever the goal is. I would say it would be apparent if there were a problem via the need for more conversations and follow-ons with this employee than other employees in the same role.

            Reply
          2. Yorick

            Right, they wouldn’t notice that they don’t like her upspeak. They would think that she doesn’t know what’s going on, and they might quietly take their business elsewhere because they think this company doesn’t have super competent employees.

            Reply
            1. David Macarthur

              Then that would become apparent through whatever means the company uses to assess performance. I can appreciate proactivity but that’s not what this is. I don’t believe this manager thinks this will cause problems as much as they want to change it because it irritates them.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I don’t think performance metrics are generally that telling or granular even with companies that use them for individuals, and of course not all do.

                Reply
                1. David Macarthur

                  >of course not all do.

                  A very good point but I think most companies have checks in some form where they monitor and measure performance even if it’s not a formal or well-documented system. I’ve never been with a company that doesn’t so I can only go by that experience and those I know around me who have also never been in a role that doesn’t have some kind of individual performance checks. Even a foreman in a builders yard can ask how the employees are performing and be told about the quality of their work and turn around times by the supervisors.

                2. fposte

                  @David–sure, but that’s not going to tell you if the vendors hate the foreman’s uptalk or not. This is where systemic discrimination is unfortunately illuminating–you’ll get all kinds of reasons offered, suggested, or guessed for somebody’s lower metrics that don’t outright say “She sounds like she’s a different race.”

      2. Not a Morning Person

        People don’t necessarily complain about everything. Note all the letters from people who are annoyed by something their employee or coworker is doing and say nothing, but then write in to ask Alison how to make it stop…

        Reply
    3. Perse's Mom

      I’m from a small town in the Midwestern US. Have you ever seen the movie or TV show Fargo? My native accent isn’t terribly dissimilar to that (and often has a certain rustic/backwoods connotation in media). Given my company serves clients across the US, if I answered the phone with that accent, it would be incredibly distracting to the 99.9% of our clients that aren’t from the same area. Therefore, I moderate my accent in order to better service our customer base as part of my job. How is that any different than Alison’s advice (except in that I self corrected rather than a manager having to take me aside about it)?

      Reply
      1. David Macarthur

        This person works in the UK and not the US where that isn’t an issue. As a point of example, I’ve worked within a multinational company with call centres aimed at corporations and not the general public. Two of these were based in Birmingham and Northern Scotland. No attempts were made to change any regional accents or dialect because it’s not an issue people doing business in or with the UK would ever take issue with or ever has in the past.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Interesting, I’ve always been told that in the UK, accents take up a huge amount of brain space, because they are unyielding signals of wealth, class, education, and all kinds of other things. Other people here who are British say they absolutely DO code switch to more “BBC” English on occasion.

          Reply
  22. Kat Em

    As a woman who is an excellent public speaker and was told by a boss that I need to add more filler words and be less professional in my presentations because it’s “intimidating” to others, I feel like there’s just no winning sometimes.

    That said, I’ve coached a few folks out of upspeak before. It takes a lot of work and practice (and recording yourself talking), but it can be done. Men have an equivalent trait where they never seem to come to the end of a sentence at all, just fading into a comma before starting a whole new thought. People don’t find it annoying enough to write thinkpieces about it, though, they just direct those folks to Toastmasters and call it a day.

    Reply
    1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

      Just UGHHHHH. I have yet to hear of a man getting that kind of feedback. Sometimes I just want to burn everything down, I swear.

      Reply
      1. Kat Em

        Yep. The funny thing is that the only people who were “intimidated” were the superiors who were getting shown up by a lowly staff member with no degree. The actual audience was appreciative.

        But hey, I don’t work there anymore. They’re now welcome to “um” their way through four hour trainings at their leisure without my interference.

        Reply
    2. swingbattabatta

      When I was in law school, we had oral arguments in front of a panel of alums and professors, who gave us feedback afterwards. I am female, my opponent was male. When my turn for feedback came, this alum (white, male, leaning back in his chair with his thumbs hooked through his suspenders) started criticizing me because I “looked small” behind the podium. That was it. That was my feedback. I was already wearing heels (but not too high, because that would have invited criticism as well), and my posture was excellent, head held high, but… I looked small.

      It has been a decade, and thinking of that still enrages me.

      Reply
  23. Lizzie

    I’m sure it’s fine for OP #1 to bring that up but the suggested script is really overlong and patronising. I would keep it simple otherwise it’ll come across as labouring an issue that isn’t really a big deal.

    Reply
    1. David Macarthur

      It’s shaky HR ground for me if not covered carefully. I mean they hired this person with the accent they have meaning that can’t be an occupational requirement of the role. It’s far from a legal issue but one I’d be 100% talking through with my HR department before bringing up to make sure it’s not against the grain for the company.

      Reply
      1. Yorick

        I guess it could be due to a regional accent, but OP didn’t say they had one. Presumably the accent would be noticeable in other ways and the OP would know whether that might be the problem.

        Reply
        1. Isobel

          It’s not necessarily either/or. There are only a few regional accents where uptalk is a feature (and to be honest I don’t really associate it with Brummie or NI, even though some people have said it’s normal for those accents).

          Reply
  24. ClownBaby

    #1…oh my gosh, this reminds me of a high school teacher I had. He would call out all students who sounded like they were asking a question. “ARE YOU ASKING ME OR TELLING ME?!” It was absolutely terrifying at first, but he ended up becoming one of my favorite teachers and got me to kick the habit. He would also shout “NO!” if someone started saying something wrong because he didn’t want the wrong answer to get ingrained in other student’s heads.

    His techniques were…unusual for sure. I know he got a few complaints about some things he’d say in class. I loved it though, no beating around the bush.

    While his techniques would be wildly inappropriate here, I see nothing wrong with having a one-on-one with the employee to address speech patterns and portraying oneself more confidently. Maybe if there is even a Public Speaking seminar near you, you could send her to that.?

    Reply
    1. irritable vowel

      I have a friend who teaches lower-level undergraduates and says something similar, in response to the SUPER-ANNOYING speech pattern of prefacing anything with “I feel like…” (yes, this is mostly a female speech pattern, from what I’ve observed). My friend says “Would you say ‘I feel like the sky is blue’?” Just own your statements, people!

      Reply
      1. LizB

        I had a high school teacher who did this with students who prefaced their comments with “I was going to say that…” — he’d interrupt, “You were going to, but now you’re not,” and call on someone else (and come back to the interrupted person after). We stopped using that phrase very quickly.

        Reply
  25. Bea

    My gosh #3 I clinched reading your post because I’m in a similar boat. I took on more tasks to keep a business afloat in a financial crunch and it bit me in the ass so hard I was put on notice when I couldn’t keep up any longer. Please speak about this prior to letting it drag out for your own benefit.

    I’m currently in the heat of a new job search because my employer is not understanding the fault it is to assume someone can do 3 full time jobs and do them all perfectly and in a tight timeframe.

    Reply
    1. #3 OP

      I’m so sorry that you were put on notice for being given too much to do! I hope your job search lands you in a better place that understands how much can get done in a day.

      Reply
    2. MissDissplaced

      I’ve been in this boat before too, and I can say it rarely ends well. It seems to be especially hard for those who do graphic design type tasks. Once people find out you CAN do these things, they want you to do them more and more often so they don’t have to pay a freelancer or agency. Even if this is NOT the job you were hired to do! Of course there will be no let up on your regular job duties, and pretty soon you will find yourself doing the work of two or three positions (marketing/design/social media/photographer/website manager) and working 12 hour days and weekends doing photo shoots.

      Reply
  26. AlWhoIsThatAl

    #1 – That’s a common speech phrasing where I am – just North of Birmingham UK. My children came back speaking like that from nursery. It’s a form that is quickly “unlearnt” just by letting people know what they sound like.

    Reply
  27. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

    I want to comment to say that I’ve really enjoyed the linguistics discussions presented. For the most part people were politely discussing and presenting great thinking points. The few that descended into personal attacks were redirected. Thanks for such a great talking point!

    Reply
  28. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    #1 – There are two really different aspects to the discussion of uptalk, and I think you may want to come at this cautiously, but absolutely do address it! It’s very true that vocal trends commonly associated with young women are generally treated more negatively than other trends (although young women also tend to be the trend-setters for tendencies that then become more widespread, ie the expanded use of ‘like’) but you can absolutely say that it sounds less professional and less confident to your clients. The thing to stress in your talk with your employee is that the speech pattern isn’t inherently bad; it’s just not good for work.

    I’d use the same kind of discussion if an employee were using any other kind of work-inappropriate but not offensive vocal characteristic, and I think if you frame it that way, it may help.

    Reply
  29. Allison

    2) I agree with AAM that your boss’s comment was patronizing, and it does sound like he’s concerned about your productivity but being a butt about it. He should be able to talk to you about it in a more direct way, but since he can’t, you should ask him whether he has concerns about your productivity, explain that prior to things kicking up they were slow, and ask what he expects of you when things are slow – he might want you to come up with projects or he might want you to come to him and ask if there’s something you can help with.

    I “goof off” on the web, especially when things are slow, and sometimes I get paranoid but I figure as long as I do good work and my boss seems pleased with me, there shouldn’t be an issue, and if there is, she’ll tell me there’s an issue before resorting to disciplinary action. Spending a whole day goofing off and not doing a single thing can be a red flag, so try to do *something* each day even when it’s slow.

    Reply
  30. HR Recruiter

    OP #1 there was a video on youtube I was given at a women’s conference years ago. It talks about the unconscious speech patterns we are taught as women growing up to be more submissive. One of the big points they made was women tend to end a statement as a question, undermining their own authority. I wish I still had the video. It helped me realize things I didn’t know I was doing and really helped me in my career. So yes, say something to her, she probably doesn’t realize she’s doing it!

    Reply
  31. Kristine

    #2 – at one point my boss’ boss patted me on the back and said, “See, you CAN be productive!”
    The first thing I thought was, “No touching at work.” I don’t know the genders involved here but that seems quite inappropriate. Reacting to both that and the comment with an “Excuse me?” would have been my reaction.

    Reply
  32. aett

    Regarding #2: It’s interesting how internet usage varies from job to job. I’ve been working desk jobs for about twelve years now, split up between the military and civilian life, and using the internet during downtime has never been an issue as long as you’re not supposed to be doing something else. Each job has had internet filters, of course, but everything else is fair game.

    It’s a good thing, too, because my current job has a lot of downtime – especially in certain times of the year – and I’d go crazy without being able to idly surf.

    Reply
  33. Tara

    I work with a young lawyer who has the same speach tic. She talks like a valley girl and it makes her sound immature and unintelligent, which she is neither. It makes me want to shake her and yell, STOP TALKING LIKE THAT!!!

    Reply
  34. saby

    #1 if I were you I might bring up to your employee that her tendency to use uptalk is perceived a certain way that may affect her professional image or relationship with clients. She might not realize that her statements are being interpreted as uncertain due to her tone and that’s good information to have. And then she can decide what to do with it.

    I have to say I’m a little shocked at how many AAM commenters are vociferously against uptalk. I use it all the time (young woman, female-dominated field, Canada, if it matters) and not because I feel like I need to pull my punches or because I’m asking for reassurance. It just feels more friendly! I mentioned upthread that ending a statement with a falling or even sometimes a neutral intonation, makes it sound very final, end-of-discussion, don’t-talk-to-me-anymore. Where as the rising intonation indicates that I’m open to a response or continuing a conversation. Fortunately the rest of my workplace also operates this way. (We are also the kind of place that uses lots of exclamation points in emails.)

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I had forgotten that Canada is another big uptalk place (even the infamous “eh” factors in there :-)). Thanks for the reminder.

      Reply
  35. Ask a Manager Post author

    I knew a question I originally had in this post would get a disproportionate amount of comments so I took it out and made it its own post (it’s the one that just went up), but I totally missed that the uptalk one would do the same! Lesson learned.

    Reply
        1. Emi.

          No, I basically mean that they both attract a lot of controversy, although I think both controversies relate to (A) the degree of arbitrariness of social codes and signals and (B) young (especially white) women.

          Reply
    1. Silver

      I’m not surprised. People have a lot of feelings about language. Uptalk is pretty interesting from a linguistics point of view; I’ve read some good articles about it on language blogs a few years back.

      Reply
  36. Katy

    I had a great manager once tell me to pretend that I was ending every sentence with “dammit!”

    “Our teapot production is up 110% over this time last year (dammit!)”

    It really works.

    Reply
  37. irritable vowel

    Regarding #4, I have the opposite situation – after many years of leaving my graduation dates off my resume because I didn’t want youth to be a factor working against me (vis a vis a perceived lack of experience), I’ve recently added them back on because I’ve been applying for higher-level positions and I want to be sure people know that I’m over 40 because in my field there’s a certain amount of gravitas that’s conveyed. Even though they could do the math from the dates of the jobs, it seemed better to me to make it clear that I graduated from college just over 20 years ago and received my professional master’s degree shortly thereafter. I’ve been on enough search committees in my field to know that the “young whippersnappers” are often dismissed as “why does she think she’s qualified enough to apply for this position?” Perhaps this is field-dependent, though.

    Reply
  38. Ruthie

    My fiancé works in public radio. The women who work there are routinely criticized for their voices. All of our friends have stacks of letters (actual letters) they’ve received. They sound too imature, their uptick is annoying, their vocal fry is distracting, and on and on. My male fiancé has had just one complaint ever compared to about one a week some of the women receive. I understand that one of their podcasts had the only appropriate response to these complaints. They have a filtering system set up that looks for common words like “uptick,” sends the messages straight to trash, and sends a reply along the lines of: “It looks like you wrote in to comment on the voice of one of our reporters, likely a women. We don’t care and it’s been deleted.” I have taken their lead and consider criticism of my colleague’s voice inappropriate. After all, I have friends with a strong uptick who are incredibly successful radio reporters. Radio reporters!

    Reply
    1. McWhadden

      There was a This American Life about this! Ira Glass noted that he receives constant comments about the voices of the women on the show. And it’s a no win situation. Vocal fry, uptalk, too aggressive, etc.

      Reply
  39. Elizabeth West

    My graduation year is 2005; I left it on, but now it’s about twelve years past. I’m afraid if I take it off it will 1) make me seem older, which I don’t want, as people still don’t realize I’m 52; or 2) make my qualifications seem outdated.

    Reply
  40. medium of ballpoint

    I’ll add, though, that there can be consequences to changing the way you speak. I had an ethnic accent growing up and I dropped it very quickly when I went to college and realized white folks thought it sounded dumb. Now that I have more education, experience, and authority, having that accent would be fine. Unfortunately, I can’t get it back and I’m often resentful that I had to train myself to sound like someone else just to be seen as competent. And I think that’s the hard part: I fundamentally don’t sound like myself anymore, and I inadvertently helped perpetuate the idea that sounding white and masculine is necessary to succeed.

    Reply
  41. crookedfinger

    OP#1 – Just say something. Someone told me I was doing that years ago and I had absolutely no idea I’d been doing it. I definitely didn’t want to be seen as unsure when I wasn’t, though, so I’ve been working on it ever since and hardly do it at all anymore.

    Reply
  42. Mephyle

    Readers may find interesting this post about uptalk in Language Log, a blog written by linguists, in which they examine linguistics in real life. At the bottom of the post is an index to past posts on the same subject (there are lots!).

    Reply
  43. Chaordic One

    The thing about “upspeak” is that it often seems to (apparently unintentionally) invite “mansplaining” which drives me crazy.

    Reply
  44. mf

    OP#1: This employee is really selling herself short by using upspeak because she’s giving the impression she’s not knowledgeable or confident. You can tell her exactly that, especially if she’s a good employee: you want to see her project confidence because she deserves to be seen that way.

    Reply
  45. OrphanBrown

    OP#2, I was fired from a non-profit for mouthing off by online chat with a coworker. My coworker got fired too. Your company might not have a practice of monitoring but may come across one suspicious thing and then decide to monitor after that. I was traumatized for a long time by this firing but in my reflections I know that I am to blame.

    Years later an intern I supervised searched for jobs in another city all day long, on my computer on a day I was out of the office, and didn’t clear her history. After speaking with my manager, I confronted her about it and offered to help her stay more busy and on top of her tasks. She cried during our meeting, I think she was so scared that she got caught. She didn’t lose her job but quit her internship 2 weeks early which pissed me off because we gave her a chance and she showed that she didn’t appreciate it.

    You messed up by both surfing when you should have been working and for making any kind of comments that could be perceived negatively by company chat. Keep those convos professional and save chats for other mediums. And if you want to goof off and have a few minutes to do so, do it on your smartphone on your data plan (not the company wifi). Don’t be stupid like me and get fired over this stuff.

    Reply
    1. OP#2

      You’re right and thank you for sharing your stories. I’m technically required to be signed into the chat system but right now I’m “forgetting” (not uncommon so I don’t anticipate it being a problem). I reviewed my history and realized that there are particular coworkers who message me when they are frustrated and rather than shutting it down I was stupidly agreeing and sharing my own thoughts. Lesson learned! I’m also cutting off all use of internet except for the sites I need to do my work. I had a little bit of reassurance today when my manager reviewed a completed task and sent me a message saying it was fantastic with many exclamation points. She also made a comment while discussing work that she knew I had a lot on my plate this week so at least they know that I’m working normally now. I’ve been staying late, worked a little on the weekend and I do plan for sure to let one of my vacation days lapse this year to compensate for that day. Fingers crossed it’ll work – I really do like my job and this was quite the wake up call! Thank you everyone for your thoughts!

      Reply
      1. OrphanBrown

        That’s great! You’re on the right track, I think you’re making all the right moves. Yes, as much as it’s so easy to be a sounding board and commiserate with your miserable coworkers, taking a step back or having neutral responses is definitely the way to go!

        I don’t think this means you can never complain about your job, or you can never complain to coworkers, but there’s gotta be safe ways to do it.

        Reply
  46. Med Student

    #1 If you are going to have a word with the employee because you think it is actually affecting their work, can I suggest doing so with a compliment? I’ve been told that I’m not confident enough in answering questions and comments like “you know what you’re talking about, so answer like it!” have helped a lot. Obviously with a caveat of telling her not to pretend when she doesn’t actually know, but to be more confident that she does know what she’s talking about most of the time. I do think this pattern of speech is more common amongst women, probably partly due to messages that women speaking their mind or being confident is “arrogant” “bossy” and “intimidating” so we try to make our speech smaller and less forceful. This may have been the case with this girl, so reinforcing the idea that she is both free, and encouraged, to be confident in her abilities and knowledge may help a lot.

    Reply

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