It’s a scientific that that the way we speak impacts the way we are perceived by others.
changing your accent would amount to changing an integral part of who you are, and nobody likes fake.
It’s a scientific that that the way we speak impacts the way we are perceived by others. Our voice speaks volumes and it is after all not always what we say, but how we say it that proves decisive in the perceptions we generate in others. And yes, our accent itself certainly plays a major part in the way we come across to others. Many of us may also intuitively presume this to be the case. If you happen to have a foreign or uncommon accent in the area you live in or apply for a job, you probably have thought about your accent possibly being an issue in the process.
But does your accent really impact how seriously people take you on both a professional and personal level? Scholars have repeatedly found that foreign accents might reduce the credibility of non-native job-seekers, reporters and even eye-witnesses. Researchers have also consistently found that heavier accents are perceived as being less trustworthy than lighter or more familiar accents.
But why do some accents immediately make us fall into the trap of the stereotype? For example, when we meet someone from Brooklyn, New York with a strong Brooklyn accent, many people immediately think of Tony Soprano, the well-known Mafia Boss from the famous television series. This means that for many people unfamiliar with the accent, it might come across as less trustworthy and even threatening.
Westerners often stereotypically associate an Indian accent with working in an offshore call centre or in IT. Sadly, the experience of working with offshore call centres generally leave a bad impression on customers, which doesn’t help the way Indian accents are perceived by those who are unfamiliar with it.
On the other hand, people with Scottish or Irish accents are generally perceived to be friendlier and more trustworthy than those with other accents. This is because the fact that these accents closely represent the dialects used to speak middle English during medieval times, gives it a kind of exotic vibe. In fact, in 2019, the Irish accent was voted the sexiest in the world.
Recent research from the University of Essex has shown that in England itself the working-class “cockney” accent is judged to be less trustworthy and intelligent than upper-class “cut glass” accent. This posh or upper-class accent in the UK is called “cut glass” probably for two reasons: 1) the accent’s refinement metaphorically refers to the sharply defined edges of cut glass and 2) in times past, the upper-class aristocracy were the only ones who could afford to purchase cut glass. In other words, the expression “cut glass accent” refers to both elements of the sound of the accent as well as the characteristics of the speakers.
All this, of course, naturally begs the question whether those of us who have a strong accent which is often associated with a negative stereotype or a lack of credibility, should attempt to change or soften it for certain formal or professional settings. The reality is, after all, that the majority of employers admit that the accent of a candidate is an important factor in terms of deciding whether or not to employ someone. Yet while this seems to suggest that jobseekers would be better off softening their accents, most experts actually advise against it. Why? Because changing your accent would amount to changing an integral part of who you are, and nobody likes fake. They might tease you at work for your accent, but rarely if ever an employer would want to employ you if they perceive you as trying to be someone or something you aren’t.
The key, rather, is to communicate with confidence and clarity. In this regard it may be helpful to cut out a few slang words, but changing your accent itself may well make you sound fake. After all, it’s not the accent itself, but the lack of clarity that makes for the barrier in communication and may worry employers.
In other words: the most important strategy with which to combat accent bias and make sure you increase your credibility, is by working on the clarity of your speech and the confidence with which you speak – all while always remaining ever-true to yourself.
Paul Russell is co-founder of Luxury Academy London, a multi-national training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise exclusively in the luxury industry and deliver training in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across the globe.
Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles within luxury hospitality. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.