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Is Your Accent Holding You Back?


February 2nd, 2015

- Updated on

February 24, 2016 - 2:27pm
In part one of this two part blog, AJO’s VP, Team & Leadership Development, Oneida Werger shares a recent coaching engagement success story.   
An AJO Executive Coaching client was recently offered a significant promotion managing the largest retail region in the U.S.  Only 6 months earlier, he was denied promotion because the company’s executives “didn’t like the way he talked.”
In spite of being the #1 producing retail manager in the U.S., Joe’s accent was holding him back.

When Talk is NOT Cheap

Having lived his whole life in the Southeastern U.S., Joe’s pronunciation was typical for the region. When it came to interacting with corporate executives in the northern U.S., however, his diction was perceived as a barrier to future progression. Regardless of his top performance and the successful track record he’d worked for years to establish, Joe’s communication style was harshly judged….. not unusual for leaders with the Appalachian speech pattern. This difficult feedback produced tremendous disappointment for Joe, resulting in disenfranchisement with his role and his employer.

The Harsh Facts about Diction

Unfortunately, based on how we pronounce our vowel sounds, people make strong assumptions about social class, level of education, intelligence, race, socioeconomic status, personality, and definitely leadership capability. Tone of voice and diction has an enormous influence on an audience and the degree to which they trust a speaker.
Professor Albert Mehrabian established a classic rule on the effectiveness of spoken communication which helps understand how and why we judge people who are speaking to us – and thus the degree to which they can influence us.
Mehrabian found:
  • 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (how words are spoken)
  • 55% of meaning is in facial expression
This is a familiar dilemma for Joe’s Executive Coach, Oneida Werger who is also from the Southeast. Oneida learned, while pursuing a degree in Speech Communication, that diction is a barrier in many careers including journalism, broadcasting and public speaking. With diction and accent reduction training in her education, Oneida knew she could help Joe mitigate the most troublesome sounds and the communication anxiety that was judged so harshly by his executive audience.

Joe’s Coaching Plan

Coaching focused heavily on Joe’s most problematic speech sounds and had an immediate impact on his awareness of his accent and resulting pronunciation. Steady practice quickly reduced his accent and re-built Joe’s confidence when communicating with top executives. This new found confidence enabled Joe to shift the focus from his nerves to his audience, better showcasing Joe’s amazing knowledge and talent.
Within 3 months, Joe was asked to present on a panel of subject matter experts, attracting more attention from top executives who sought out his expertise. As a result of Joe’s coaching and communication strategy, he was offered the promotion he had clearly earned, and now speaks regularly at internal and external corporate functions.
Can you say “alright!?” Or does it come out “alrat?” Do you say “cah” instead of “car?” All regions have their speech diction idiosyncrasies. Want to know how Joe did it? To make similar improvements in communication style/diction and reduce regional influences, see our follow up blog.

Oneida Werger brings extensive experience in accelerating individual performance and the business growth of Fortune 100 & 500 companies to her role as VP, Team and Leadership Development at A.J. O’Connor Associates. With over 20 years of management and consulting experience, Oneida is recognized for developing and delivering programs in leadership, organizational development, change management, sales, diversity and retention. Oneida earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in Organizational Communication and Psychology from Western Kentucky University.