I’ve always had a quiet voice. I don’t naturally speak loudly and have to make a conscious effort to speak up.
As a kid making a presentation or asking a question in class, I had to contend with other students in the room being encouraged by the teacher to ask me to “speak up.” However, the teacher did not always instruct my classmates to make the request politely or respectfully.
I wouldn’t have gotten more than two words out when a booming voice of one my peers would interrupt me to demand that I “SPEAK UP!” It was as if they were accusing me of deliberately forcing them to yell at me.
Language is complicated.
A simple juxtaposition like that made up of “speak” and “up” can carry important meaning to the receiver. What other two-word phrases carry such power? Shut up, catch up, get up, keep up. (I’m cherry picking here and deliberately selecting phrases with “up” in them for artistic license.)
The point is that these can come off as rudely demanding phrases even when they are meant to help. “Shut up” is obviously quite rude, but in the appropriate context, the rest of them can be off-putting as well.
On the other hand, I don’t advocate for tiptoeing around the language and living in fear that someone will cancel me if I use a common expression. If I unintentionally upset someone, I should be able to simply apologize — with sincerity, of course—and have that be it.
Language is loud?
As an adult, more things roll off my back and especially as a middle-aged adult. I’m not as bothered by little things anymore, but I still hesitate to make requests that require me to speak up beyond my general level of comfort.
These days I usually find some roundabout way to get someone’s attention. If I can make eye contact, I wait until the other person is within a decent proximity before speaking as loudly while still politely as I can. I usually have to repeat myself.
Now that I think about it, I can’t remember the last time anyone actually said “speak up” to me. Have I successfully avoided such a scenario, or are people just more polite? Or is it just kids that are cruel?
Language is communicative.
I recently had a conversation with my neighbor who has no problem speaking up, whether grabbing my attention across the driveway or raising important issues at the monthly HOA meetings.
Speaking of HOA meetings, she has been trying to get me to go to those again. I went once and did not relish the experience of sitting in a hot packed room with a mask on (because pandemic) while trying to pay attention to the echoing voices because the community conference room has terrible acoustics.
It’s not hard to speak up there, but it’s hard to comprehend or feign interest in a three-hour meeting about proper tree irrigation and door colors. Yeah, you read that right … three hours!
Anyway, I’d been avoiding talking to her about these meetings, but that day I gathered my courage and managed to speak up about how I didn’t particularly care for the meetings and didn’t see much point. We exchanged arguments politely and went on our merry ways.
Not once did she ask me to speak up. I am thinking about giving the meetings one more chance, though.
Language is powerful!
Speaking up can also be hard when you’re not used to the sound of your own voice. I read recently that our voices sound much richer to ourselves and so that’s why we’re so disappointed when we hear our voices on recordings. It’s just never as good as we think it is.
I have published a couple online courses and am working on a third to hopefully launch in November. It was hard for me to edit the audio of these courses at first. The sound of my own voice was grating. I thought I sounded like a little kid, and it brought back some of those anxious memories.
However, after launching the second course, a freelancing colleague commented that I had a pleasant and clear voice that was easy to listen to. I then played one of the lessons back and heard myself in a new light, er, soundwave.
I guess the power of language can only be acknowledged when one appropriately speaks up.