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How Rate of Speech Impacts Diplomacy

How much does the pace of speech matter in diplomatic speaking? What about credibility or persuasiveness? The answer is a lot, according to Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
May 6, 2016
Episode #340

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I recently received the following email:

Hello,

I read the article "how to be more diplomatic" and I found it really informative. In the future I will be sure to keep those points in mind when I communicate in a diplomatic manner. However, I was wondering - how important is one's pace of speaking when being diplomatic? And how can one permanently change the pace of the speaking to such a level?  

Thank You,

Ranil

This is a great question, and the answer is: it depends.

Let’s first define diplomacy. It doesn’t mean moderating between nations, although such people do have to be diplomatic! Rather, diplomatic communication preserves the dignity of your conversation partner. And it’s often more about listening than speaking. Diplomatic communication is relaxed, tactful, and respectful.

For me the biggest part of diplomacy is the word tactful—taking careful consideration of the feelings and values of your conversation partner. That means to be diplomatic you must be highly skilled at flexing your communication style. So you don’t really want to permanently change it at all. (Learn more about your communication style and how to flex by taking a DISC communication assessment and receiving a 22-page report. This $100 value is free for a limited time.) 

Rate of Speech and Persuasiveness 

Let’s talk about what we know about how rate of speech impacts credibility and persuasiveness. Many studies have been done on this topic. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who spoke slightly faster than average were deemed more intelligent and more knowledgeable, while those who spoke slightly slower than average were considered less intelligent and knowledgeable. Interestingly, however, this does not correlate to persuasiveness.

How persuasive the speaker is depends more on the audience’s attitude regarding the subject than on the speaker. A study reported in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that, if the audience disagreed with the speaker initially, speaking faster caused a higher level of persuasiveness, because the listeners didn’t have time to think of counter-arguments. But if they already agreed, speaking more slowly was better, so that what the speaker said had time to sink in. And whether speaking quickly or slowly, taking natural pauses was crucial for persuasiveness. I go into this in much more detail in Are Fast Talkers More Persuasive?

Rate of Speech and Diplomatic Speaking

As we can see, human communication is very complex. But there are still more factors to consider. Yes, credibility and persuasiveness are part of diplomatic speech, but for me the most salient aspect of diplomatic speech is to be credible and persuasive while being tactful and respectful. So your pace of speaking should be a pace that is respectful and appropriate for your conversation partner.

So if you’re talking with someone who moves quickly and speaks quickly, then you should match that person’s pace of delivery.  If you’re speaking with someone whose natural speed is slow, steady, and soft, then as a diplomatic communicator, you will want to speak in a manner similar to that person’s. If the conversation partner is having the conversation in a second language, then the diplomatic communicator will slow down the pace and shorten the length of sentences for easier comprehension. So speaking more quickly or more slowly needs to be relative to the other person’s natural style.  

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