Communication is all about tone, pace, volume and inflection. Those are the variables that you need to control in order to connect with somebody on their terms. Those are the variables that will cause a person’s ears to prick up. Those are the variables that will cause someone to stop and take notice. Those are the variables that will cause someone to say, “yeah, I get that,” or to respond with a question because you’ve got their interest. Those are the variables that will get someone to listen to you.
What do I mean by tone?
Regardless of your message and the words you’re saying, it’s your tone that communicates what you’re feeling when you say them. Your tone tells the truth even when your words don’t, even when you’re unaware of that truth yourself. It’s also your tone that others respond to.
This is critical because it is all too possible to express what you consider to be the most positive of messages in a tone that provokes bitterness. You can even say “I love you” in a tone that incites a harsh or even angry response. Then, you are probably going to feel unfairly attacked when the person to whom you’ve said it quite rightly responds to your tone instead of your words.
What you think you hear in another person’s tone, and what others think they hear in yours, is almost always present. And if someone accuses you of an attitude or feeling you don’t think you have, what they have to say likely represents something you need to hear. More importantly, it is something you need to be aware of before you speak, if you want your message to be heard correctly.
We’re often unaware of tensions and attitudes brewing underneath our surface. When others respond to us negatively or in ways other than what we want or expect, it is most likely the emotion you’re conveying in your tone of voice that caused the reaction you received.
It is my opinion that many of us have difficulty observing our feelings when we’re in the middle of feeling them—especially if what we’re feeling runs counter to what we want to be feeling or what we think we should be feeling.
To communicate effectively, it is imperative that your tone is congruent with your message. If not, your message will either not be listened to or it will be misunderstood. Neither result can be considered effective.
That’s the entire meaning of the common saying, “we need to set the tone.”