Upspeak… why is this a thing?

Having read a ton of books on self help and communication, and attending dozens of self improvement and personal growth seminars, having studied people who were clearly and abundantly successful in building relationships, communicating, closing sales, etc., it has become increasingly important to me that I control how I communicate with others.

Many years ago I was told, many times by many people, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

I hated hearing that, mostly because I didn’t like what they were saying. I wasn’t comfortable with criticism and my defense mechanisms were easily triggered. It took me a while to figure out that I was focusing on what they were saying (criticizing me), rather than how they were saying it (gently, compassionately, helping me). I didn’t see that what I was saying was not the problem… as they were all trying to tell me.

My tone was the problem, and my tone was distracting from my message. How I was communicating had a dramatic effect on what I was saying. I had an arrogance and superiority about myself and my way of doing things, and it turned people off when my message was expressed through that attitude.

There are many factors to how we deliver our message, how we communicate… things like body language, eye movement, the energy we project, our assumptions or judgments about the person we’re talking to (are they a subordinate at work or a respected elder?), and our confidence in the message itself. (How committed to this particular idea or statement are we?) While these all play a role, one of the most important factors in communication is our tone.

Because I have a tendency to let things irritate me, I notice certain things… and one of the things I’ve noticed over recent years is a speech pattern called upspeak, or what is technically called “high rising intonation,” or HRI.

Often, HRI is used at the end of a clause, to start a sentence, and then a falling pitch is applied at the end. When upspeak is at the end of a sentence, it’s referred to as HRT, or “high rising terminal.” Questions usually end with HRI, or upspeak. However you’ll notice not all questions follow this rule, like the one in the headline.

What I have allowed to bother me so much is that more and more people are using HRT, and ending every declarative statement with a rising tone. There are many theories as to why people do this. There are many articles expounding these many theories, and it took me a while to find one that I agreed with. Not just because it suggested making upspeak a verbal fad of the past, but the author’s focus was on the actual subject of upspeak.

Among the articles I felt missed the mark, one asked in its headline “Is upspeak ruining your career?” but the first line of the article said, “The sound of your voice may be destroying your career.” The article continued to explain why speech therapy may be necessary, and encouraged people to seek help if they didn’t like the sound of their voice.

Not only did the article miss the point that the sound of someone’s voice is not the same thing as someone’s tone, it never actually addressed the issue of  upspeak.

Another actually suggested that because it’s more prevalent in women, that any criticism of it is an attack on the validity of  women’s speech. It failed to notice that men use upspeak as well, and when they admit that it can be construed as inferior or lacking in confidence, they expose a gender bias, that their premise was trying to deny.

Another suggested that superiors or those with a higher social status use upspeak, while those beneath them use it less. Their case studies involved a sorority in Texas and Asian business culture. I’m not sure those 2 groups are indicative of society in general.

It is entirely my opinion that it stems from a lack of confidence. To me, it always sounds like a request for approval. To test this theory, read these words – or any article or book or blog post – and use HRT or upspeak at the end of every sentence. Is this how we choose to sound when we talk?

That last sentence almost has to end in upspeak, because it’s a question. But that one I just typed does not. Nor does that one. Or this one. And when upspeak is the dominant speech pattern in a person’s method of communicating, it trips my brain, and makes me wonder about the message, often in ways that are totally irrelevant to the message being sent.

There was one point that showed up in several articles I read, one that I felt was valid, and I can see how it might be appropriate in certain situations. The benefit of keeping someone’s attention, because there is more info coming, is real… and this particular sentence is an example of that. It’s clear upspeak has its place, but as we noted earlier, it’s often used at the beginning of a sentence… and NOT at the end of every sentence.

Today, as I type this, I can’t help but smile as I remember certain people in my life who employ this speech pattern endlessly, and I enjoy making an extra effort to focus on their message and what they are saying. How they are saying it is entirely annoying, but I don’t spend much time with people who don’t have something to share. Their message is always of great value, and I also smile at the incredible things I’ve learned form these people, and the outrageously fun times we’ve shared.

I also find it amusing that upspeak has such an impact on what I hear, and when I hear it come out of my own word hole, it refocuses my mind and thoughts on the message I’m sending.

This has proven incredibly valuable, as I learned to employ one of my favorite lessons in communication. It came from my spiritual mentor, Neale Donald Walsh, and it resonates with me more and more every day, particularly as I see more and more people coming to understand this lesson in their own way. Walsch says,

“It is not nearly so important how well a message is received as how well it is sent. You cannot take responsibility for how well another accepts your truth; you can only ensure how well it is communicated. And by how well, I don’t mean merely how clearly; I mean how lovingly, how compassionately, how sensitively, how courageously, and how completely.”

He uses “your truth,” which I believe is a much deeper philosophical subject than “your message.” But it is still the truth…

How we communicate something changes what we communicate, because of the specific manner in which the message is sent. Because that is the only thing we have control over, it’s imperative to pat attention to all aspects of how we send our message.

Whether it’s a business meeting or a casual conversation with friends, I prefer to avoid the upspeak, and ensure that my message is sent clearly, lovingly, compassionately, sensitively, courageously, and completely. Care to join me?

For more ideas on personal growth, success principles, mindset, and other valuable concepts, please visit my You Tube channel at JR’s YouTube.

Thanks for reading, and for being a part of my journey. I wish you peace and success all the days of your life.