Friday, July 8, 2011

The Voice.... That Carries

Recently I was speaking with a group of co-workers and the topic of "noisy people" came up.  Anyone who has ever worked in an office environment with more than three people probably understands there is always that one person who is much louder than everyone else, and where I work (due to the number of people who share the space) we have more than a handful.

There are quite a few different types of noisy people ranging from the person who has no concept of their own volume when speaking a phone, to the type of person who feels a laugh needs to be at least 90 dB to be effective, to the type of person who likes to watch ESPN clips on their computer with the volume cranked.  My personal favorite however is the person who wears headphones while listening to music and doesn't realize that when they decide to talk they are now about three times louder than they need to be.  That's always a crowd pleaser especially when they decide to drop an f-bomb in a professional environment (and even worse is when you sit near them and are on a conference call with a sensitive mic).

The thing is, in this particular group of co-workers that I was speaking with, everyone pretty much mentioned the same person as being noisy, so it isn't like I'm the only one who has recognized it.  Actually, rather than mince words I'll just call her loud, because in essence that is what she is.  The best part is everyone knows she is loud.  She has been told she is loud.  People have been known to sneak up to her desk and turn up the volume on her phone in the hopes it might help to reduce her speaking volume (since in theory she would hear her own voice being fed back into the earpiece on her phone and adjust volume accordingly), but basically there isn't much that has worked. 

Now I don't want to make it seem like this is a huge annoyance or that it is disturbing, because for the most part it is just one of those things you deal with in life.  Some people are loud, some are quiet just as some people are friendly and some are bitter at everyone and everything around them.  Whether someone is loud or not just isn't that big of a deal because it is fairly easy to tune them out if you aren't directly engaged in a conversation with them, and frankly this particular person is friendly and outgoing and the type of person who I am happy to have as a colleague, so the fact she is a tad louder than those around her is a relatively minor point.

The interesting thing about this particular woman however is that she knows and acknowledges that she is loud and that her voice is typically at a volume level in excess of what is considered normal.  This is where I tend to hear the oh-so-common excuse when the conversation of loud people comes up where she openly stated she is loud because she has "one of those voices that carry so well".  Really?  You just magically have a voice that carries better than the voices of other human beings?  I find that interesting.

There is a lot of science behind sound and I don't want to get off on a tangent here, but basically a sound wave is comprised of characteristics such as the frequency (the pitch of the sound itself), amplitude (think of that as volume), wavelength (which is inversely proportional to frequency), intensity, and pressure.  Now although it is true that different frequencies of sound are detected by the human ear at various volume levels (the human ear does not have a flat spectral response), for the most part the difference between volume levels within the frequency range of human speech is not all that significant.

This is a long way of saying that person A's voice does not differ dramatically from person B's voice when looked at in terms of a sound wave.  There is no physics magic that allow the sound waves of one person to travel farther than the other given the same volume level and (approximate) frequency, and for all intents and purposes a voice is a voice in terms of how far it can go.  There may be differences on who can hear that voice of course, but as a whole that isn't really an issue when speaking about a group who is all listening to the same person unless they were all hard of hearing or if they all had better-than-average hearing (which I somehow doubt is the case in my example).

So when someone says they have a voice that travels so well or a voice that carries so well... they are basically just repeating something they heard once with no understanding of how silly they actually sound (no pun intended).  The fact is, for all intents and purposes if someone has a voice that "carries well" it is likely due to the fact that they talk louder than everyone around them.  Thus a distance X, person A with amplitude Y they will obviously be heard better than person B with amplitude Z assuming a comparable frequency and Y being greater than Z.

So yea... sometimes a loud person is just a loud person, and an excuse is just an excuse.  Chances are if someone has a voice that carries better than those around them... it has less to do with physics and a whole lot more to do with them just being loud (and in some cases annoying as well).

The more you know.