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Sshhh…Use Your Inside Voice

March 24, 2011

I got caught up watching some Seinfeld the other day. Much like Law & Order (every version), Seinfeld is one of those shows that I can’t turn off like to watch when I run across an episode even though I’ve seen them all about 10 times.

Fans of the show will remember that there were characters classified based on their speaking style –  the “High Talker,” the “Close Talker” and the “Low Talker.”  Jerry never got around to dealing with a Loud Talker, but then again, I guess they were used to loud…George was their friend.

So naturally, I got to thinking about these types of talkers in the workplace –

  • The high talker surfaces via phone calls.  The pitch, tone and inflection are insufficient clues for one to determine age or gender.  I’ve called candidates at home and mistaken the parent (and thus my job applicant) for their grade school age child.  I’ve also mistaken men for women; thought women were men; and one time almost scheduled an interview with Grandma who was well-past the job hunt stage of her life.  It didn’t help that grandma was a tad forgetful and thought, for a few brief shining moments, that she had applied for the position.
  • I’ve worked with close talkers.  Folks who sidled up to my desk and practically crawled on to my lap.  A few ladies who had a tendency to stand within inches as we washed our hands in the bathroom.  Oftentimes, the close talker feels as if they have some great, big, juicy secret to share and their eyes widen and pupils dilate as they get closer and closer and closer.  Shudder.
  • The low talkers can be exhausting.  Decorum, politeness and appropriate business communication taken to the extreme seem to be the order of the day for the low talker.  And when you have an office FULL of low talkers?  It’s like living in a library – or a fish tank.  I’ve had to go out to raucous after-work events when in an office loaded with low talkers just to get my hearing equalized again.
  • The loud talkers, however, seem to have been most prevalent in my workplaces.  Or perhaps it was merely the power of one that made it seem as if there were more.  Loud talkers have a hard time modulating their v-o-l-u-m-e.  Phone calls, hallways conversations, private chats and lunchroom gatherings – all occur at maximum amplification.  Any conversation with a loud talker, even behind a closed door is heard by all.  There’s not a door that has been manufactured for the office setting that’s sufficiently thick enough to block their voice.

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It’s often a challenge for people when they switch jobs or start in a new work/office environment.  Office norms vary; expectations of managers/supervisors differ from person A to person B, and what co-workers will put up with also comes into play.

Once upon a time, in an HR job far away, we had a close talker in the office.  Great guy and good worker whose style was to get right up close during conversations to “make sure his message was being heard.” One day he walked into another guy’s office, went face-to-face with only a gap of about 6 inches, and was KO’d.

And yeah.  Sugar Ray Leonard was fired.

High? Low? Close?  Loud?  Have you ever worked with these people?

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