When authority turns ugly

I have recently been watching a lot of videos from various voice pedagogy “leaders in the field”. Some are people I know personally, others I have only experienced from the audience or have never seen before. The manner in which they express themselves varies widely. These experts inspire me to remember how much communication style matters.

In one video I saw recently, one fellow in particular, who I will call Dr. Q, stands out on a panel of pedagogues. He is an expert in certain aspects of voice science. He has impeccable grammar and diction, and his voice has a generally clear and pleasant timbre. But his attitude and tone, oh my!

First, Dr. Q. has a way of flaunting knowledge and making the audience uncomfortable. He demands that they answer his difficult pop-quiz questions during his lecture. When they are slow to answer, he answers himself, then challenges them with more questions and repeats the process. These are highly specific, technical points that aren’t even germane to the discussion at hand. But he wants you to know that his knowledge is vast.

Second, he sounds annoyed all the time. His inflections and rhythms convey this.

Third, he beats dead horses. He made the same basic point many, many times, just substituting one word for another in essentially the same thesis sentence.

Fourth, he states things as “givens” which are not, but apparently expects you to accept them. Perhaps his towering intellect and encyclopedic knowledge lead him to believe that he can say whatever he wants, unchecked. His assumptions that we will see things his way, and stated annoyance at those who don’t, add to the discomfort, especially if you are someone who does know things, but doesn’t like pushing people around.

In my opinion, the total effect of this communication style could be described as “Know-it-all with a touch of bully”. Yuck. I wonder if he is yet another mad genius gone sour from fighting for years against a tide of ignorance. Maybe he feels too little understood? Maybe he just needs a vacation and a kitten? It makes me not want to buy his book, nor be in his audience. Good news with such an attitude might as well be bad news, when one feels assaulted while receiving it.

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