Know Thyself: The Voice Thing

Know Thyself: The Voice Thing

Maybe it’s my Italian-American heritage, maybe it’s the fact that I grew up on the streets of New York, maybe it’s something I picked up during my years as a cop and then a negotiator, but my normal speaking voice is very what you might call expressive. It goes up, it goes down, it goes all around. A regular audio show, my voice.

Do I use that when I’m talking? You betcha. The emotion in my voice—my enthusiasm, my empathy, my disbelief—they all underline what I’m saying. They’re part of my personality when I’m talking, and they help me convey a sense of trust and build a rapport with the person on the other side of the negotiation.

I didn’t consciously set out to develop a voice when I became a negotiator. It was already there. What I did do was realize that my voice modulated, and then trained myself to pay attention to what it said—the emotion beyond the content.

What was that slogan?

Know thyself? To thine ownself be true?

Takes one to know one?

A negotiator should know him- or herself. He should know how his voice sounds, and how her eyes reveal anger. Listen and watch yourself in action. Use the mirror, use videotape, use the shower if you have to—if you don’t know what tools you have, you’re not using them.

Role Playing

I encourage my students to practice and train to negotiate. I don’t see why anyone who’s interested in negotiating anything—a car purchase, a raise request, a date with Miss Universe—wouldn’t want to take a few practice swings before stepping up to the plate. The best situation is to rehearse with someone else, as if you were practicing for a part in a play, but of course that’s not always possible for a one-man or -woman negotiating team. You know what? Do it by yourself. Go ahead. In the bathroom, the kitchen, the office—just do it. Call it role playing, instead of talking to yourself, and it’ll feel a lot more natural.

I believe that cassette and digital voice recorders are among the most helpful tools for training hostage negotiators. During my classes, I record students role playing and give them their own tapes to take home. Most students cannot believe the voice on the tape is them.

One caution here: If you do record your training sessions, take it easy on yourself. Listen to what you said, learn from how you reacted, make mental notes about your presentation style, but don’t be too hard on yourself. We are our own worst critics, especially when we hear ourselves on tape. We always believe we could have done better.

Don’t Be Hard On Yourself

Since we’re on the topic, let’s talk about criticism for just one more minute. Onlookers can and will criticize. It happens in all walks of life, and it certainly happens to negotiators. “I would have done this,” they say. “He should have said that.” The fact is, it’s just too easy to criticize when you’re not the one who had your butt in the hot seat and had to respond to a person holding hostages, with the lives of innocent people hanging on every word. Even if the negotiation didn’t involve life and death, it’s always easy to criticize. Negotiators shouldn’t shut out constructive criticism, of course. But they should consider the source and remember that they were the ones who had their lives or livelihoods on the line. That’s worth a lot more than armchair lip after the fact.