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We are perceived by how we speak. When I first moved to Washington D.C. in 1989, I had what the locals might have considered a Southern drawl as a result of growing up in Mississippi and spending most of my life in the deep South.
To gain credibility with the D.C. crowd, I figured I had better adopt a more generic way of speaking – milk toast instead of sweet bread, if you will. Otherwise, who among the Ivy League crowd would take me seriously? So I set about to learn how to speak like the lobbyists and D.C. insiders and struggled to bury the speech patterns and expressions that were embedded in my personality.
It didn’t work, but it got me thinking about our speech and how we are perceived more by the way we say something than by the content of what we are saying. The Scottish emphasize the tongue to achieve that distinctive brogue. The French are all lips. And the Germans speak from the throat.
We Southerners don’t use any of those organs when we speak. No sir. A true Southerner lets it flow from the soul. It starts somewhere deep in the chest and flows right out across the teeth. When a Southerner speaks, it’s like spreading peanut butter. When a Southerner tries to speak with no discernible accent, it’s kind of like spitting peanut butter – the effect is messy. Oh sure, some folks can bury the accent and get away with it, but I wasn’t one of those.
So I eventually learned that it’s just better to be yourself, be honest about who you are, not try to fake it. If somebody makes assumptions about you based on your regional speech patterns, those perceptions are short-term. You build long-term credibility not by your accent, but by your actions. It’s how you conduct your business and how you treat people – from the busboy at the restaurant to the bank president who is considering your loan application. Honesty, respect and credibility in your actions will speak volumes – even if your speech pattern has a little butta on dem buuuns.
President, National Precast Concrete Association