Voices in groups

March 28th, 2011

Body language gets a lot of press when exploring group dynamics. Voice not so much. Here’s a few random thoughts and observations about different ways we use our voice in groups, based on what I do and observations in groups.

  • Phatic communication: verbal ‘stroking’ (aka small talk) to establish a rudimentary relationship with strangers before embarking on further conversation
  • Avoiding experiencing something or doing an activity/game by abstracting, asking questions, clarifying etc – talking about the activity rather than doing it
  • Avoiding saying something meaningful or exposing a vulnerability by abstracting, asking questions, clarifying etc. This also includes externalising – talking about others, rather than about myself.
  • Filling silences. Some silences are companionable, others uncomfortable. When someone uses their voice to fill a companionable silence, it’s jarring; when they use their voice to fill an uncomfortable silence, it’s a relief. We all seem to have different tolerances for silence.
  • Shifting status. We can use our voice to subtly (or even not so subtly) shift our own status in a group (this usually means raising our status or making a status attack). We can also use our voice to raise or lower the status of other people.
  • Verbal batting, which often includes interrupting. You know the deal. I start saying something and before I’ve finished someone else jumps in by interrupting me with their idea, and then I do the same back. Backwards and forwards we go, batting ideas around.
  • Holding people hostage. One person talking to a large group with no obvious means of escape for the audience members (except maybe those who have embodied the Law of Two Feet).
  • Singing. Music can transform and when someone uses their voice to sing it can have an amazing impact on a group.

2 Comments so far

  1. Eva Schiffer on April 8, 2011 1:28 am

    Hi Viv,
    Thanks for making me smile and nod my head again and again. I especially relate to “talk to avoid experience”. I have found that different professional groups are especially prone to this, and the difference between researchers and the rest of the world is just mind boggling in this aspect. I have worked with groups of researchers, who, had I let them, would have spent the whole time we had just talking about how the experience works and what and why it will do and how I can prove that. But not prove it by letting them experience it – prove by showing scientific studies that show that others had this experience. Can you (when you come back from your amazing trip) tell us a bit about how you deal with these different ways of using voice, especially those that throw you off your course? And if they make you as impatient as I sometimes feel in these situations, how do you deal with that feeling? Thanks a lot,

  2. Viv McWaters on April 18, 2011 5:55 pm

    Hi Eva, Thanks for your comment. I guess the way I deal with these different ways of using voice is to first of all notice what’s happening. I notice myself doing all of the above 🙂 and I also notice others. The avoiding doing something by talking about it is the one that’s makes me most impatient (and anyone who knows me knows that I’m not renowned for my patience!) so I usually just step in and say ‘let’s do it!’ And as soon as someone starts again with ‘yes, but what happens if…’ I respond by saying ‘let’s find out’. Usually works and sometimes requires some gentle, or not so gentle, bullying.
    Cheers, Viv

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