REFLECTIONS, PERSPECTIVES

How I came to accept the “real” sound of my own voice: and you can too

From actual experiences in speaking on Chinese radio; an English podcast; and trying to improve my own voice

Shawn Seah
4 min readAug 6, 2023

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The author at a podcast recording. Photograph by the author’s team.

The first time I spoke on a Chinese radio show in 2019, I literally shuddered upon hearing the sound of my own voice from the radio. I later learnt that this phenomenon is so common that there’s an actual term for it: “voice confrontation”.

There are several interrelated explanations for why we cringe upon hearing how we “really” sound like.

The author with the Chinese DJ on Capital 95.8 FM. Photograph by author’s team. (At the time, photograph was unfortunately taken on a cellphone that did not have high definition.)

One common explanation is that we receive the sound of our voice mainly through our bones internally, and partially through the air, whereas listeners receive the sound of our voice solely from the air. Bone conduction delivers rich low frequencies. When we hear our recorded voice, it sounds higher pitched and different, basically. Because our recorded voice does not sound how we expect it to, and our voice plays a large role in our self-identity, we don’t like what we hear.

Another related explanation is that listening to our own voice reveals aspects of our personality we can only fully perceive upon hearing it from a recording, such as an underlying sadness, anger, irritation. In other words, we hear ugly “truths” or “realities” we intended to keep hidden. Our voice reveals more than we had intended to share, thus betraying us.

Yet another related explanation is that we may automatically evaluate our own voice in the way we automatically judge others. (Of course, we should try not to judge others.) We compare our own impressions with how we think others must evaluate us socially. This leads us to be upset or dissatisfied with the way we sound to others.

But there’s some good news: we tend to be less critical of other people’s voices, so chances are, we are the only ones really bothered by how we sound and others don’t care as much.

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Shawn Seah

Singaporean writer and public speaker, passionate about education, social issues, and local history and community stories.