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“I don't like your tone of voice.”
“Tone of voice” is a term we hear as early as we begin to dialogue with our parents at a young age. It's such a popular and understood aspect of common communication that we're familiar with phrases like, “I don't like your tone of voice.”
Obviously, language – the word – is not the only way that what we mean to say comes across. But what is tone of voice? It's commonly described as the ‘way' we say something. We realize, from this, that whenever we are saying anything, there are always two components to that speech.
While our words are presumably understood and understandable, by both speaker and lister, tone of voice is a more mysterious matter. It works in ways we don't even fully realize, and, more than that, it's very difficult to describe. While you can reflect on a conversation and directly reiterate what someone said, it's complicated trying to reconvey the tone of their address, without simply reenacting it.
Tone in Business Interactions
How often is your experience with a business or service directly related to the tone of voice used by the agents of that business or service? For me, it almost always plays a huge role. Customers are influenced by tone. Customers want, whether they realize it or not, to be induced by the delivery (the tone) as well as the product itself.
That is why so much effort, in an advertisement, is put towards not just the script, but the voice delivering that script.
How about when you're on the phone with someone, professional or personal, and you can tell by the energy and pace of their response how attuned to the conversation they are.
The number of times we think we know where a conversation is headed, and get the idea to interject and finish someone's thought for them, reveals how out of tune we can actually be when it comes to communication.
Keeping Calm When You're Angry
We notice the tone of voice especially when it has a negative effect on our experience. That's when its importance is really clear to us.
Recently I had the experience of catching an argument just as it was about to begin and, through attention to the tone of voice, was able to backtrack and move beyond that almost-fight.
My brother and I were talking when he brought up a subject that was triggering, and referenced a show he enjoys that I have some issues with. When I raised what I thought were important points, I sensed it became personal, and he grew defensive. Our tone of voice got more tense and firm, and I could feel that we were about to argue. The entire mood had changed and suddenly our focus was on defending ourselves, rather than communicating successfully, sharing our feelings in a genuine and useful way.
Right when we were about to raise our voices, tones, we both paused, and took a step back.
The first steps were merely acknowledgments that we didn't want to keep sliding into this other tone of voice. After those initial steps, we were able to actually progress into a more positive tone of voice and begin to communicate again in a healthy, fluid way, recovering our tone.
My point is, noticing the tone of voice as it changes beneath your words is really important. It's related to how you feel and how you project yourself into the world, and, of course, how to relate and communicate to others. By paying attention to your tone, you fortify yourself against becoming ‘tone-deaf'.
Always listen for your voice's register, and develop an attentive relationship to it, so that you can create a new sense of control and have success in how you communicate in your daily life.
The Significance of Body Language
There's no shortage of emphasis on the significance of body language in communication. I notice sometimes with my roommate that as we have conversations, I'm on my computer with my back turned, and she's behind me in the kitchen, moving around.
Because this is often our body language when we speak, little of what's spoken is ever of much depth, while our posture remains so dissonant. Our bodies are not aware of each other, not receptive.
Obviously, the better conversations we have happen when we recognize each other by sitting together, sharing our interest in each other's words, being present in the sound of our voices, and the effects of our bodies.
Speaking with your body is as important as speaking with your voice.
For some, the voice can actually be a more cumbersome talk, and they actually prefer to share their personality physically with those they love. Sometimes, a stare, a look, a slouch, a wink, can all issue as much as anything we could or might say. Our bodies are not a secondary part of our voice, they are, themselves, a kind of mouth.
Body language is its own form of tone.
Hidden Channels in Communication
Most important in a discussion of the tone of voice is the fact that meaning is conveyed across channels that we are not always aware of. The truth of your position, your opinion, your feeling toward the person you speak to is revealed without you realizing its full effect. The wave of messages coming across, coming off you, is collecting of chemicals and signals and sounds that you are only partly conducting.
The person with whom you chat might not even be conscious of the message, but a part of them can identify it in your manner of address.
There is a consistent conversation happening besides what we say. The ability to tap into this hidden network is rare but can be incredible.
Those infrequent conversations we have, where the words almost seem to be dancing between us, are times when our two tones are aligned and almost speaking for us.
Breaking Down the Importance of Tone
Tone obviously signifies in many aspects of our lives. I would like to finish this discussion by writing about one of its most interesting applications.
In our sexual lives, words take on a completely different meaning and dynamic. Speaking sexually (talking dirty) relies completely on tone. Whether it's asking a coy, rhetorical question: “Do you want this?” Would you like that?” “Are you going to do this?”, or making bold assertions, declarations, vows, the tone is always what modulates the impact of those sentences.
The wording alone only goes so far, but the tone and volume convey a much more subtle and potent message.
There can be no guide to tone, but only the suggestion that we pay such close attention to it that we become constantly aware of how to use it, and how it is influencing our interactions.