Does A Regional Accent Hold You Back?

If I’m ever asked where my accent’s from, I say, “I’m a mongrel.” That’s because I’ve a Scots father, English mother and have lived in Canada, Puerto Rico, Northumberland, Kent, London and Yorkshire – picking up all sorts of inflections and colloquialisms on the way.

In actuality, I don’t really think I have an accent. (You can decide for yourself if you watch this video.) So I’ve never had to consider what impact it’s making on people’s perceptions of my personal brand.

But it seems a lot of people think their accent does make an impact – and not necessarily for the in a good way.

A survey said…

In a study commissioned by former Education Secretary Justine Greening, half of the 2,000 UK workers surveyed, across industries and regions, believe people without strong regional accents find it easier to progress in the workplace. (Overall, one in four said having a regional accent had held them back at work and this rose to almost half in London.)

And they may be right when you learn that working class representation in leadership roles is as low as 17%.

If you’re in agreement about the detrimental effect a strong accent can have on your personal brand and your career – because you have one – what should you do about it?

As with most things in life, a lot will depend on circumstance. So when you’re appraising your accent and where it gets you (or stops you getting to) here are three nuggets to give you some food for thought:

1. What’s their comprehension?

The primary objective when we speak to others is for them to hear what we say and understand it.

Regardless of which accent you have – a regional UK one or a foreign one – if it’s diminishing people’s comprehension of your message that’s no use to anyone. (This doesn’t just apply to accents; if you’re speaking too quickly or too quietly, it could be causing the same problems.)

For instance, I have a Glaswegian uncle who, much as I loved our intermittent phone calls, I found incredibly hard to comprehend. He once spent five minutes telling me about his new “pop” while I made lots of encouraging “Mm-hmm” sounds to show I was listening. Eventually I couldn’t fake it anymore and had to admit I had no clue what he was talking about.

“It’s a baby dog.”

“Oh – you mean a pup.”

“That’s what I said – a pop.”

If that sort of confusion when you speak seems familiar, getting help to train your voice and accent to be clearer/slower/louder could bring some real benefits.

Of course, if the person listening is from the same region and has just as strong an accent, there’s every likelihood they’ll fully comprehend every word you utter. In which case, there’s no problem at all!

2. Is the balance right?

I recently did a workshop for an organisation in the legal sector. One lawyer who has a Liverpool accent said her voice worked both in her favour and against her.

When she talks to her defendants – who often have a Scouse accent themselves (that’s the area of the country she works in) it helps to quickly build trust between them. After all, she is (at some level) one of them.

But when it comes to winning over the judges, who often have Home Counties accents (a stereotype, but true in her experience) she feels she has to try harder to overcome their initial prejudice based on her accent.

If you’re in the same boat, the question to ask yourself is: does the buy-in from one audience make it worth the lack of buy-in from another – and therefore there’s nothing to change accent-wise. Or is it out of whack and a bit of voice-alteration might help.

3. Is your accent actually adding to your personal brand?

My third example of a strong accent was a guy who attended one of the workshops I ran for an international bank. He had a Cockney accent which, if you closed your eyes, brought to mind Del Boy from Only Fools And Horses.

He said that, on first impression, other bankers – often from privately educated backgrounds – assumed he’d have the same characteristics as Del Boy: a bit of a wheeler dealer who was likeable but, in their eyes, had no real credibility, so could be easily ignored.

And that was when his accent worked in his favour. Because by underestimating and ignoring him, he was able to work in the background without interference and land some really big deals. (Although he said they eventually cottoned on to this fact.)

So far from changing his accent to fit with his colleagues, he’d lay it on even thicker if he met someone new.

Have you got a strong regional accent and has it worked for you or against you? Have you made any changes and, if so, are you glad you did? Or if you don’t have an accent but work with others who do, what’s your take on it?

You know the drill…leave a comment below please!

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5 responses to “Does A Regional Accent Hold You Back?”

  1. Denis Kaye says:

    I think the barrier to being credible isn’t your accent, unless it makes you unintelligible. The barrier is speaking in dialect, which is often confused with accent. Telling someone that a meeting will last ‘from 9.00am while 10.00am’ is fairly useless if they don’t come from West Yorkshire, as is saying ‘haway’ instead of ‘come on’ to someone who isn’t a Geordie. I think you’re in danger of insulting a business contact if you can’t speak from a commonly accepted vocabulary. However that doesn’t preclude a regional accent which is something different.

  2. Jennifer says:

    The commenter above makes a good point about accent vs dialectic. I once said to a former manager, “howrya” a Dublin way of asking “how are you?” His head whipped around so fast and he replied “did you just tell me to hurry up!?!”

  3. Meg Burton says:

    Hi Jennifer
    So glad you posted this, for a long time I let my own insecurities about my Yorkshire tones hold me back believing that people judged me more negatively yet I loved meeting new people and listening to their different accents. I have learned to embrace my accent now yet I would agree that I am careful not to use ‘slang’ or regional jargon where I can. I agree with the comments above about accent versus dialect, I personally love different accents as its another part of you that contributes to your unique personal brand. Last week I had a room of young apprentices from all over the North and their accents did really make them stand out in a good way but occasionally I did have to check what they meant so maybe it’s just about being self aware and more conscious of the language you use when communicating with a wider audience. It will be interesting to hear other peoples experiences

    PS. A Teacake has currants in Yorkshire 🙂 lol

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