One of the more fascinating elements of communication to me is the question of voice. As a writer and speaker, I have a strong personal style that makes it so that those people who know me personally can understand from my tone the general idea of what I am saying in a foreign language and can hear the way I talk from the words I write. And while not everyone has this strong of a personal style to the same extent that I do, nonetheless we do tend to all have a personal style when we are writing honestly. Whether or not this style is a good one or a bad one is not the intent of my writing, and far be it from me to condemn other people for being the sort of individuals who have a style that is much different from my own. My main interest here is to explore what makes someone’s voice so distinct.
What are the components of someone’s voice? When we communicate with others in a face-to-face manner, our communication is made up of the words that we use and how they are arranged, the tone of voice, and the body language that we use, and these are in order of the importance that other people read them. Each of these elements has a high degree of individuality about them that helps to create a certain style. The body language that we use is the way by which the energy (or lack thereof) within us is conveyed to those whom we speak with. Some of us talk with our hands, have expressive faces, and so on. The tone that we use in speaking with others springs from the feeling that exists behind our words as well as the way in which we are able to modulate our voice to make a particular point. Tone of voice tends not to come off well in written communication, although if someone knows the tone of voice that a given writer would use in a certain circumstance, one can have a fair understanding of the tone that is meant.
Although it is the least important aspect of communication in terms of how our point is understood, our word choice is often what we pay the most attention to and often feel it to be most under our control. In face-to-face communication, this element is least important because a less than ideal word choice can be overcome by the way that we convey a message. In written communication, where tone and body language are not read, word choice becomes far more important because there are fewer clues that people have in order to understand us. One of the reasons why cultivating a personal voice is so important is that people can gain an understanding of tone that allows them to better understand and interpret our voice in a way that helps to provide the necessary context in order that our words are not hopelessly twisted by all who come across them, for we know that we will be understood by some.
How then do we go about acquiring a personal voice? We should first recognize that most of us already have a voice that is provided by our background, education, as well as the pattern of word choice that we use in our speech and writing. To some extent, this can be changed. As we acquire new linguistic skills in a language, our voice can change to the extent that it reflects the new words that we use, the new grammatical structures of sentences that we use, and so on. Similarly, our voice changes to the extent that the feeling changes behind the words that we say. Something that is written in one mood can, in the aftermath of an experience, change its feeling based on a new context, and the passage of time can change how we feel about something that we have communicated before. Once we become aware of the voice that we have, we can then seek to hone it deliberately by seeking greater understanding as well as greater honesty. How we do that, and the extent to which we do that, is up to us all.