What is it about tone that gets us so riled up? If you’re like me and you have teenagers, you know that, as parents, we can get riled up because the tone used by our offspring can add so many different meanings to the actual words spoken. The same principle of tone impacting meaning applies not only to our children, but to our coworkers, our customers—basically everyone we speak with. Tone can reach into our emotions and affect us more than skin-deep because it can convey either respect or disrespect.
Tone and the way in which we use it is not new. Each one of us encounters tone on a daily basis. When people speak, we listen not only to the words they say; we interpret their feelings as well. Are they being sincere, are they being sassy, are they angry, are they down in the dumps?
Last week I was on an airplane and a couple approached my aisle. I observed that they were assigned seats on each side of the middle walkway, so I asked if they’d like to sit together. At almost the same time the man answered with a grateful and sincere “Yes, thank you,” while the woman responded with what sounded like a sarcastic “That’d be niiiiice,” dragging out her “i” and biting off the “e.” I got up and moved so they could sit together, but was completely rubbed the wrong way the whole flight by the fact that the woman was huffy at my extended courtesy.
The next time you’re about to answer a question or make a request, take a moment and think about how you’re going to sound. Ensure that the meaning of your tone matches the meaning you wish to convey. Without considering your tone, you may inadvertently cause a heated verbal exchange, or, at the very least, cause someone else’s blood pressure to rise a bit.
What examples do you have where tone affected communication?