We all know an influential person. Not Hillary Clinton or Emma Watson-style influential, perhaps, but powerful on a small scale: the colleague whose brilliant ideas dominate every meeting, the friend who always ends up deciding where to go for dinner, the cousin who somehow manages to bring everyone around to their opinion on Brexit.
But why are some people naturally more influential than others?
According to a new study, it's all about your voice. Psychologists in the US have discovered that you can influence people simply by lowering the pitch of your voice in the first moments of a conversation. The study, reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, found that people whose voices went down in pitch early on in a conversation were more likely to be seen as “dominant and influential” than those whose vocal pitch went up.
Crucially, those seen as “dominant” were much more likely to be able to convince others to go along with their ideas - so if you feel that you don't get listened to at work, deepening the tone of your voice might be the way to go.
“What excites me about this research is that we now know a little bit more about how humans use their voices to signal status,” says Joey Cheng, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, who led the study. “In the past, we focused a lot on posture and tended to neglect things like the voice. But this study clearly shows that there's something about the voice that's very interesting and very effective as a channel of dynamically communicating status.”
But if your voice is naturally high-pitched, don't worry that you're doomed to a life on the sidelines. The study also found that people who were seen as dominant weren't necessarily liked or respected - and that people who were admired, but not “dominant”, were also excellent at influencing others.
“What’s really fascinating about status is that regardless of which groups you look at and what culture and in what context, what inevitably happens is that people divide themselves into leaders and followers, and there’s a hierarchy that’s involved,” Cheng said. “Our study adds to the evidence that humans, like many other animals, use their voices to signal and assert dominance over others.”