• Nancy Mendelson

Is Upspeak Undermining You? Here's What You Can Do Instead

Updated: Oct 6

A dear friend and I were having a catch-up call, last week, when she stopped mid-sentence and said in no uncertain terms, “You know, you should do a column about how young women speak these days. It’s like fingers on a blackboard, the way their sentences end in a question… I just want to shake them!”


What is Upspeak Uptalk Vocal Fry

What is Upspeak or Uptalk?


Known today as Upspeak or Uptalk, it’s basically “when sentences have a rising intonation at the end that causes statements to sound like questions,” explains Cara Hutto in a piece for Inhersight, "And although it’s used by both men and women, women seem to draw the short straw when it comes to criticism of the speaking style. Uptalk can even become a protection mechanism for women in order to avoid coming across as overbearing or bossy—sexist adjectives commonly used to undermine women leaders.


“Women are constantly policed for the tone and delivery of their speech. It’s a catch-22 where we’re told that we apologize too much, say “like” too much, and sound too submissive, yet we’re simultaneously told to not be too assertive or commanding,” the article goes on to say “Not only is it unfair to judge someone solely based on their voice or tone, research shows that altering your speech at work can impair your ability to solve complex problems, generate ideas, and maintain personal investment in your work."


Is Upspeak Unprofessional?


An article for Masterclass poses the question, "Is Upsepeak Unprofessional?" and goes on to say “Using upspeak in your interactions with colleagues and managers may come across as unprofessional in a workplace environment. The general view toward uptalk is that it lacks conviction and assertiveness, so increasing your tone at the end of a sentence can lead your colleagues to doubt what you’re saying.”


And yet, in the same article we learn, “uptalk may have a positive role in a work setting when you use it appropriately. For instance, incorporating upspeak into your conversation is a polite way to navigate constant interruptions from colleagues. You can also use upspeak to approach a topic in which you are not well-versed. Rather than pretending to understand a subject, use an increasing tonal pattern to demonstrate your willingness to learn and discuss the matter further.” Good to know, if you’ve got a grip on your speaking patterns.

Being no stranger to Upspeak/Uptalk myself when I was younger, I still find those memories cringeworthy. Geez, I even took it to another disturbing level by either whispering my ideas to my boss or jotting them down on paper I’d stealthily pass to him, for him to share in important meetings…and he let me!!! Thankfully, those days are well behind me!

Being no stranger to Upspeak/Uptalk myself when I was younger, I still find those memories cringeworthy. Geez, I even took it to another disturbing level by either whispering my ideas to my boss or jotting them down on paper I’d stealthily pass to him, for him to share in important meetings…and he let me!!! Thankfully, those days are well behind me!


What turned the tide for me are these words of wisdom that were passed along to me by a very wise woman––my shrink- when I was in my 20’s, “When you speak to express rather than impress, you are coming from a place of strength, and people will listen.” She was right!

When you speak to express rather than impress, you are coming from a place of strength, and people will listen.

Consulting Dr. Google can also be helpful, since there is--not surprisingly-- an abundance of info on the pros and cons of Upspeak/Uptalk, together with tips to modify your speech patterns if you so choose. I say, SPEAK UP/TALK UP, because you and your ideas are too valuable to not be heard. OWN IT!