How can I listen to someone who has an annoying voice without letting my irritation get to me?
July 22, 2008 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Someone I have to interact with on a fairly regular basis has a voice that grates really badly on my nerves. How can I listen what the person is saying without being annoyed by the voice?

As far as I know I don't show any outward signs of my irritation, so that's not an issue, I'd just like to be able to interact with this person like I do with everyone else. It's not a friend but it's someone I can't avoid talking with.

As far as I can tell the person is perfectly nice but the voice, a mix of David Brent and NPR, is extremely irritating to me. I've never had this problem before but I have a hard time paying attention to the words because the voice is so annoying to me. I thought this would abide once I'd gotten used to the sound but after 6 months of talking to this person at least twice a week I still can't get over it. Do you have any ideas as to how I can stop being annoyed? Have you ever had a similar problem and found a way to get past your irritation?
posted by Kattullus to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is a difficult question. Both David Brent and the people on NPR have excellent voices, the kinds of voices that many of us would like to have. If you would explain why the voice is irritating to you (perhaps it clashes with some factor in your own background?), that might be useful.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:46 AM on July 22, 2008

this is going to sound like new age crap, but it works. focus on something you like about the person and how that pleasant attribute makes you feel. now focus on their voice and try and relate the good attribute to the voice you don't like. mentally will their voice to be more pleasant to you, like that other attribute you do like.

you aren't changing them, you're changing your mind's perception of them.
posted by jrishel at 10:54 AM on July 22, 2008

Uh... are we talking about the same David Brent?

I suppose I could describe the voice as smarmy. Another point of reference would be Office Space's Jim Lumbergh.
posted by Kattullus at 10:59 AM on July 22, 2008

Interesting question. Voices will change based on someone's emotion, level of comfort, confidence, etc. One thing I can't stand is women who talk in "upspeak" -- i.e. every statement becomes raised in tone at the end as if it were a question. "I just got into university? Yeah, I'm studying sociology?"

I think the most annoying aspects of people's speech come out of a lack of confidence. The raised tones, volumes, etc. If we had more info about what aspects of the voice are annoying that could help.

But perhaps you can think about setting and environment and if that comes into play. Also whether this person is feeling insecure.

I don't seem to find most calm, collected, and confident people's voices annoying.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 11:01 AM on July 22, 2008

Very sorry to say that when I had a committee member with a high, nasally, whiny voice, she drove me batty on conference calls for two years. All I could do was remind myself to be a professional.
posted by desuetude at 11:22 AM on July 22, 2008

In private, practice imitating the hateful voice. Record yourself and compare your results with the real thing. Let the miracle of method acting create sympathy. And admire the ease with which your interlocutor has mastered something so difficult.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:44 PM on July 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

I have a similar situation with a woman who works at a consultants’ office that we do business with on a daily basis, her voice is the very definition of irritation. The only advice I have is that you have to discipline yourself to rise above your annoyance. Good luck.
posted by Vindaloo at 12:54 PM on July 22, 2008

Could you keep all conversations on the phone, and perhaps use voice changing software on the incoming?

Only half kidding.
posted by jsmith77 at 1:20 PM on July 22, 2008

People just perceive sound differently. I´ve come across two people who have been quite annoyed by my voice, one of whom is a close family member. My voice doesn´t seem to bother them now that they have lost much of their hearing. Durring the the time when they had lost some hearing but not to the current extent, they would often get very annoyed at me when I was speaking.

Is it possible that you have some sort of hearing loss or tinnitus?

Try to avoid focusing on your thoughts about how this voice sounds. Instead of thinking ¨this voice is annoying¨, try thinking ¨this voice reminds me of the voices of some people who make their living off the sound of their voice.¨

If you get this same reaction to NPR, where you can´t listen to the actual words being said and get meaning from them, listen to NPR until you do. Most people don´t find the voices on NPR irritating.
posted by yohko at 3:09 PM on July 22, 2008

I have poor hearing, and my voice is consequently a bit loud. I try to modulate my voice, but I don't hear myself correctly. Hopefully, once people learn why, it is not as annoying. Try to pitch your own voice a bit softer; that sometimes helps.
posted by theora55 at 3:30 PM on July 22, 2008

I sit down the row from a man who has a high-pitched, uh, what I like to call "insane homeless person laugh." It is audible from across the entire office. As in, one end of a high-rise building to the other. His speaking voice is both high-pitched and he tends to speak loudly and somewhat condescendingly to others, I'm pretty sure without realizing it.

What I did was spend a little time with him and get to know him as a person, and found qualities that I admired. I realized that he knows he's annoying to listen to, but has learned to deal with it by overcompensating in other ways. He's incredibly kind and is the type who will literally get in his car and come change your tire (man or woman friend, doesn't matter), offer heartfelt advice, and give offhanded compliments for no reason. Look past the voice and see the person behind it; he can't change his voice, you can't change your ears.

Perhaps you could do the same to this person? Try having lunch away from the office and asking for help with something, or finding a way to connect to this person. When you have shared respect, annoying attributes become less so. Another tactic? Speak to him in secretive, hushed tones; people tend to mirror behaviors, and this might save your ears.

All of us have flaws; some of us are blessed with fewer that we are self-aware of, that's all.

My other suggestion? Try to keep all communications limited to email or IM only whenever possible.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:30 PM on July 22, 2008


ok, it's unproven woo with a ridiculous woo explanation, BUT it is completely free and takes less than half an hour to find out whether it helps you or not.

I find it works quite well for me for exactly this kind of thing -- minor emotional things where my emotional response is at odds with my rational choice / plan. It seems to be like a shortcut for having my rational choice about something take precedence over my instinctive emotional response.
posted by lastobelus at 9:59 PM on July 22, 2008

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