Fox News in Chicago ran a piece last night on a recent spike in the number of people signing up for accent reduction classes.
I have very mixed feelings about this… no question that what is good for you professionally is sometimes not very good for you personally, but when the change in question changes who you are as a person… I say, that’s when you tread with extreme caution.
The debate around cosmetic changes is longstanding (if undervalued). Now think about the impact of changing your voice.
Close your eyes. Imagine your mom calling your name. Or your child. Now change that person’s hair. Clothes. Voice.
You can’t change the voice, can you?
Our voices are part of who we are on a very deep level.
Our accents are part of our voices.
I’m not saying accent reduction won’t help you land a job. It probably will. That’s just a fact of life. (Rather than a link backing up that claim, how about a little logic, instead: if accents were helpful, we’d have a word in the English language that means “discriminating against people who are similar to you in favor of people who are different,” and there would be a bloc in the immigration debate advocating for the expatriation of deadbeat nationals in favor of go-getter immigrants. We’d have employment laws protecting the rights of the majority against the tyranny of the minority, too. The absence of these things suggests that it’s not helpful to be easily identifiable as an outsider.)
But accent reduction will only really help if it’s done for the right reasons.
Do it for the wrong reasons, and you may find yourself wondering who that is speaking whenever you open your mouth.
That would be bad. That could lead to poor self-esteem, an externalization of self-worth, and all sorts of… badness.
How do I know?
Quick: name a TV show, movie, or song about the power of being true to yourself… now name one that celebrates the virtue of pretending to be something you’re not. See? Awareness of the corrosive power of pretending to be something you’re not is baked into the human condition.
The essence of Fail Spectacularly! is to be who you are to the fullest; to embrace rather than reject what makes you unique. Accent reduction can be a part of this… but just as easily it can be an impediment.
Sometimes, what’s good for you professionally is bad for your personally. That’s life. Just be cognizant of the choices you make, and why you make them, and be sure to reflect on them later… so you can undo them when the time is right.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.