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Articulate: Finding Clarity

I was recently chatting with a woman who is back to work as a server in a restaurant. She expressed the concern that people couldn’t understand her and were asking her to repeat herself often. This is a valid concern.

There are two issues at play, both important. One: People, in general, are poor listeners. This despite auditory processing that can determine what words have been said based on portions of the word and a pretty complex system of discernment for content. It is a reality that anyone who speaks with an accent* has experienced in real-time. It comes down to whether the listener has decided to give you their attention and truly listen. This was difficult long before COVID.

Two: Many people don’t speak with as much attention to clarity as they think, even in situations where they need to be understood. I am not referring specifically to diction, though it may be a factor. I mean that some people are trying to hang too many requirements on their words and not enough intention.

Our case study:

In the example of the aforementioned woman, she was trying to communicate menu information and get an order — yes. She was also trying to convey friendliness, the safety of the restaurant, be close enough to seem connected, but far enough to stay safe herself, and also trying to get people’s attention. She was also unsure of whether her patrons expected her to be social or distant given the situation. In the midst of that, she couldn’t actually remember exactly what she had said the first time she spoke. She did state that her repetitions for patrons seemed like different versions of what she had said before. That last part was important to note. It means that once she had failed to be understood the first time, she was completely able to construct a clearer statement even through the mask.

To put it all together, being clear and understood when speaking through a mask is only tangentially related to the mask itself. It is more a function of how clear and intentional the words are when spoken and how much attention the listener is dedicating to hearing them. Essentially the same issues we had before the masks. The mask is just another lens.

Can we have a clearer articulation of language and meaning? Absolutely. Is that the only requirement? No. Communicate is a two-way street.

Tomorrow, we will engage with how to get those listeners to perk up and focus.

*People who speak with what are considered prestige accents (certain British and French accents come to mind), do not suffer from the same resistance in listeners.

This Friday at 12:30 pm EDT, Gina will be live on FB. These will be short voice alignment sessions aimed at voice skills building. Watch it on the GROW Voice FB page. I hope to see you there.

Gina Razón is the Founder and CEO at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service verbal communication studio in Boston’s Back Bay.  She has over two decades of experience as a teacher of voice and speech, is a communication and change facilitator, and is a voraciously curious voice user.  Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker.  For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit

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