I Hear Loud People

TSTTwo weekends ago, Muri and I were flying from Phoenix to Las Vegas to meet our friends for the weekend.   Since we were flying Southwest Airlines … and were unwilling to spend the extra $12.95 each to upgrade to early boarding … we ended up in the B boarding group, B10 and B11 to be exact.   Since Muri can be a bit claustrophobic and needs an aisle seat, we ended up in the last row.  Across the aisle was a forty something man was telling his date what a wonderful time they were going to have in his best overbearing, I’m-a-confident-guy voice.  There’s always one, Muri said.  And indeed, no matter where we go, there always does seem to be one voice loud enough to annoy … and it’s almost always a man.   Last week, my friend Ralph and I were sitting at Starbucks having coffee.  The young man in a not-even-twenty-couple at the next table was talking so loud Ralph and I could hardly hear each other.  I wish they’d take their first date somewhere else, Ralph said.  Yesterday, needing to get out of my office for a while, I decided to work at our local Corner Bakery, where there’s a regular supply of coffee and an occasional treat.  Of course, working there is impossible without my handy-dandy Bose noise cancelling headphones   Today the culprits were a thirty-something guy in a suit checking in with his home office on his smartphone and two businessmen of some sort discussing what must have been the deal of the century.

So here’s what I’m thinking about (Thought Number 1) on this Top Sites Tuesday #243Why is it that there’s always one, that male voice that has nothing to say but is impossible to ignore?  Well, let’s start with alcohol.booze  While alcohol affects different people differently, a common effect is disinhibition, a reduction in judgement that often brings loud behavior.  Of course, if the drinker is in a noisy bar … or the back of a plane on the way to Vegas … he may talk even louder to be heard over the noise.  Did you know that there is evidence that loud music actually makes liquor taste better, the end result being that our disinhibited drinker trying to be heard over the music actually drinks faster?  Yep, alcohol’s a big player in the Why-Is-There-Always-One phonesweepstakes.  Then there are cell phones.  Did you know that traditional land-line phones couple the speaker’s voice into the earpiece so that you hear your own voice and the person you’re talking to in the headset?  Many cellphones do not include this feature, known as sidetone … you only hear your voice from your own mouth.  Others do not add enough sidetone to be effective.  So, if a person is used to land lines … or in a place with interfering noise … they are inclined to speak louder to hear themselves in proportion to the voice they are hearing in the speaker.

According to Dr. Amee Shah, director of the speech acoustics and perception laboratory at Cleveland State University, there are four factors that determine how loud a person speaks.    There’s a biological component, a pathological component, a personality component and a cultural component.   The physical makeup of a person’s vocal tract may predispose them to having a loud voice.   Scientists describe human speech in terms of formants, distinguishing or meaningful frequency components of human speech and of singing.  One of the best known formants is the Speaker’s Formant, which is perceived as louder by listeners, hence considered perfect for public speakers and actors.  Some men have vocal tracts that naturally produce a Speaker’s Formant.  That’s the biological component.  As we age … and we do age … our vocal tract may change in ways that determine how loud we speak.   As I’m sitting here in the local McDonald’s finishing this post, an old (even by my standards) came in and ordered breakfast in a voice so loud it was probably heard next door.  Often, people speak loudly because their hearing is poor, a pathological component.

Culturally, that certain authoritative male voice is viewed as an advantage in business (Google speaking voice and business success if you don’t believe me) and in attracting women.  It can be learned and if someone is going to invest time (and potentially money) in developing a Speaker’s Formant, it’s likely they’re going to use it.  Then, there’s personality.  Extroverts naturally tend to be loud.  Dr. Shah says that it’s much easier to teach yourself to speak louder than to speak more quietly.  Most of the time, people aren’t aware they’re doing it, she says. They may not think they’re loud unless somebody tells them. So, I’m supposed to cut Mr. Loudmouth some slack or ask him politely to speak more quietly.  Hmmm.  It’s my experience that 35% of loud talkers are just rude and talk louder if you ask them to quiet down.  That goes up to 97% if alcohol is involved.   So, here’s Thought Number 2: My Bose noise cancelling headphones give me some peace and keep me out of arguments.  I’m sticking with them.  How about you?

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7 Comments on “I Hear Loud People”

  1. cherperz Says:

    That would be tricky telling a total stranger they are too loud. I would rather be annoyed by the loud voice than having someone tell me to mind my own business.

    I agree there is invariably always one guy talking too loud and a lot of the time it’s on the phone. I will say most of the time, I can focus on something else and ignore them. I also have some noise cancelling earphones and they have come in handy from time to time.

    On a plane, I might be a little more compassionate as so many people have problems with their ears “popping”. Just as in the case of having a head cold, it’s hard to gauge the level of your voice. I have a severe loss of hearing in one ear due to years and years of teaching swimming lessons. I remember back in the day, when I had chronic bouts of swimmer’s ear that I struggled with my volume.

    I guess that works in my favor now. I can turn a “deaf ear” in the direction of a loud talker.


    • oldereyes Says:

      My problem, Cheryl, is that I can’t tune anybody out. They will wear on me and wear on me and then I’ll do something I regret. Muri’s more like you … under most circumstances, she can tune people’s voices out.

      Interesting re: noise cancelling headphones (which are in my area of engineering). They cancel low sounds much better than high sounds, so even tough a loud man may be louder, a loud woman sometimes bothers me more through my headphones.

      • cherperz Says:

        This is going to sound sexist because it is sort of…but loud women talk nearly always annoys me more …way more… because they are either talking about superfluous crap or being bitchy. Men are generally talking about money, business, current events or sports….more general information and less personal.

        I am rather certain some of your female readers will disagree with me on that…should I just apologize now?

      • oldereyes Says:

        Disagreement is agreeable here 🙂 I’m a curmudgeon, remember?

  2. Wolfbernz Says:

    Hi Bud,

    Sorry if this is a double comment LOL

    Yes, there always does seem to be one in every crowd, And you’re right, if you tell them about it they get worse.

    I don’t have any noise cancelling headphones… going to look them up now!

  3. Trina Says:

    I’m pretty good at ignoring people, Wolf could probably attest to that. But there is always on loud guy, if they’re too loud I tend to want to leave the area. Being stuck on a plane to Vegas with a loud guy… not so cool.

    Good thing you were able to cancel him out with your headphones!


  4. Rick Gleason Says:

    Always well-written and always worthy of reading. Thanks Bud, that was an education in itself. Now I have some excuse for my own tendencies to speak above the din.

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