Double-voiced discourse is a phrase coined by the Russian philosopher and linguistic theorist named Mikhail Bakhtin. While we may not often speak of this term, some of our everyday actions would fall under its very definition. As opposed to single-voiced discourse (where a topic is expressed in a straightforward way), speakers who practice double-voicing speak with a dual agenda: to express a particular opinion and at the same time adjust the way they speak to take into account their counterpart’s views and concerns. Such speakers try to understand what their audiences feel and think, and then tailor their speech accordingly to achieve their desired outcome. According to Judith Baxter, a linguistic professor at Aston University, it is statistically found that women were four times more likely than men to engage in double-voiced discourses.
Is it to your advantage to be aware of what your audience is thinking and adjust what you have to say based on what you think they’d want you to say? That depends. Some engage in double-voiced discourse to guard themselves against criticism. In order not to lose face by saying something silly, have you found yourself preluding your opinions by saying, “This may not be the best idea, but here’s what I think…” or “I may not be an expert like all of you, but may I suggest…” It’s almost as if you are afraid of being criticized for your thoughts so you state it upfront first before others have a chance to do so. The danger may be that our opinions might not be favourably received if we ourselves express them in such a hesitant and unsure manner.
Double-voiced discourse is also used to avoid or lessen confrontation and conflicts. Rather than state a matter directly, we may use some apologetic words to lessen the perceived potential severity of the issue. One common example is when interrupting your boss’ time, have you ever started a sentence with “I’m sorry to be disturbing you, but can I…?” Or perhaps you had to deliver negative feedback to your employee and found yourself apologizing for having to convey some harsh news about that person’s underperformance? At times, such beginnings are unnecessary and may cast us in a self-critical light.
However, double-voicing can be extremely useful especially when communicating across different cultures. The ability to anticipate cultural expectations, absorb the reactions and readjust our language accordingly can be a highly effective tool for leadership. During our bi-annual management meetings involving several countries, my previous boss would always insist on hearing everyone’s opinions on the topic of discussion but would pre-empt everyone (especially those from Asian countries) on what is expected, the manner of expression (each taking turns) and be supportive of our contributions to the discussion, however small it may be. His attention to the cultural communication differences and language used ensured that his objective was met and his team were comfortable in helping him achieve that objective.
As discussed above, wise use of double-voiced discourse can have great advantages and can be turned into a sophisticated linguistic skill coveted by global organizations today. Coupled with Cultural Intelligence (CQ) development, which our various programs offer, you will have the global skill set to be highly successful and effective at the workplace.
By: Boleh Blogger