Small Talk

Phone voice

September 21st, 2011

I called a good friend at work one afternoon.

"Hello, (company name), how can I help you?" said the voice on the other line. It was a high, sweet, young voice, like a high school intern.

I did not recognize this voice, and I'm familiar with most of the people in her very small office. I ran through all the females' names in my head trying to figure out who this person was.

After a second pause, I said, "May I speak to Mari?"

The voice morphed two octaves down, to the authoritative alto voice I know and love as Mari. "Hi Di. What's up?"

I burst out laughing on the other end. "Really? That was you? It was vaguely familiar but I still couldn't recognize you."

Obviously, I love Mari, but her normal tone of voice is brusque and means business. If she wanted to, she could make a WWE wrestler look like a kitten. This is not a chick you want mad at you.

And the phone voice- the voice was like cotton candy and Cinnamon Girl, of "I can be pushed around because I don't know anything" sweetness.

Apparently, I am not the first friend she has fooled. You know, I guess we all do it. My phone voice is nicer for strangers or acquaintances, too.

Which brings me to the next question. How come we reserve the nicer voice for strangers and the blunter voice for our friends? How come the closer people are to you, the less you have to be polite? Funny, right?


Also reach me via

Posted in Career | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Phone voice”

  1. Rosette:

    yes we all have different voice for different people...sometimes when my son act up I change which voice to use..if he is harder to manage I use my stern voice ..if he is getting toooo hard then I might switch to sweet voice...sort of voice psychology....with my husband good god easy to manipulate...I only reserve my nice voice if I want my way...but usually I use my normal voice.

  2. Ken Conklin:

    I've noticed this for many years. Our voices rise an octave or two when we speak to a baby, a small child, a pet animal being cuddled. I guess the same thing is true when we are greeting strangers and want to put ourselves into a position of being subservient. It's sort of like squatting down to a child's height in order to speak to the child -- humbling ourself to make the stranger comfortable and break the ice.

    When adults speak to children, it's not only the words and phrases that are different but also the tone of voice. The tone-of-voice difference between speaking to an adult and speaking to a child is especially noticeable when it is a man who is doing the speaking -- especially a man whose normal voice is either low or gruff.

    I have heard men speaking to children using words and tone of voice they would use when petting a kitten. Men often seem to think they must sound like a woman when speaking to a child -- their tone of voice rises by an octave or more, sometimes approaching falsetto; and it become sing-song or questioning (rising at the end) rather than declaratory or affirmative (falling at the end). Of course it's necessary to use simple words when speaking to children, but it is not necessary to use falsetto or sing-song; so it's a mystery why men (or women) do that.

    It's funny when a man who is speaking to a child then immediately turns attention to speak to an adult, but forgets to change his vocabulary or tone of voice. This is a frequent situation for men who are teachers or principals at preschools or elementary schools, using falsetto with kiddie vocabulary to talk to parents or faculty meetings.

    So I guess the analysis why we raise our voice an octave to greet a stranger on the phone is sort of like the analysis why we raise our voice a couple octaves to speak to a child or pet being cuddled. We use the "command and control" loud deep voice to yell at someone or order them to do something (like a military drill sergeant or police officer ordering a criminal to put hands in the air); we use the high sweet voice to put ourselves at a lower level to let the listener know we are being especially friendly and want to please them (Hi sweetie. Goo-goo, gah-gah).

  3. Titus:

    I have a hard time recognizing people on the phone, even if they talk in their regular voice!

  4. Rosette:

    yes that is why some guy would call those call thingy to hear a sexy voice...funny...! My husband doesn't change his voice when he talks to baby or pets.....he treats them the same..I talk to the dogs like a baby...darn dog got me all twisted ..I talk softer to a dog than my husband husband alwasy say I treat thwe dogs better than him...funny. !

  5. Rosette:

    it gives me shivers when someone talk too soft to me....I CRINGE..uncomfortable..I want the normal tone.

  6. Rosette:

    now I remember the word...PHONE SEX....the guy drools all over..omg!

Leave a Reply

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email

Recent Posts

Recent Comments