How (and Why) to Check the
Way You Say Things

Couple Communicating

There is no way to hear yourself as a listener hears you.  Which is why the way you say things – your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language – is just as important as the words you speak.  It’s the entire package of communication that creates how someone perceives your message.

I’m reminded of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, who wrote, “To a Louse.”  The key line in the poem is: “Oh would some power the gift they give us to see ourselves as others see us.”

Your Tone of Voice

Sharp, soothing, encouraging, smooth, shrill, cheerful, authoritative, dry – these are all descriptions of tone of voice.  Some people have a gift for changing their tone as a particular situation warrants.  Others do not have such a wide range of tone.

No matter which category you fall in, knowing your tone of voice and how it might affect your communication skills is very important.  As children, we receive feedback from parents, teachers, and other adults who remind us, “Do you hear yourself? Watch your tone.”

But once we reach adulthood, unless our profession calls us to pay close attention, we slip into a tone of voice comfort zone.  We go about our days and our business without giving it a lot of thought.  That is, unless someone calls it to our attention, directly or through a reaction.

Listeners are more engaged, more interested, and form a more accurate perception of your message when your tone of voice matches the tone of the meaning behind your words.  If you intend to be encouraging, but your tone indicates sarcasm, this could create a big misunderstanding.

Hadar Shemish, speech and pronunciation coach, has a great presentation regarding tone of voice.  She makes it clear that the way you say things is fueled by your emotions.

Knowing Your Emotions in the Moment

How do you feel right now?  If you were to describe that feeling, or provide an explanation for why you feel the way you do, would it be evident in your tone of voice?

You can practice being aware of your feelings and matching your tone and expressions to those feelings.

  • As daily life happens, give a name to how you feel at a given moment.  “When I see this happen, I get mad.”
  • Follow an emotion of choice for a day.  You might choose to notice whenever you feel happy or upbeat.  Write it down or make a mental note.
  • Quiz yourself on how many words you know for your emotions.  Write them down.
  • Every day, notice and name the emotions you recognize in people’s voices and in their facial expressions as they speak.
  • Have some fun with role playing, saying the same sentence in front of a mirror in different tones of voice.
  • Record a video of yourself using different tones for different emotions.  Watch the video sometime later and ask yourself if the way you say things matches the feelings you are trying to express.

Practice is key here, as you want to be authentic with your voice and facial expressions.  Any hint of being inauthentic will send the wrong message to your listeners.

The Way You Say Things – While Listening

Listening skills are attending skills.  There are many situations in which saying nothing says it all.  A physical presence is all that is necessary. But within that physical presence is a big message.

The ability to be with someone, listening to them, means that you intend to give them your undivided attention.  Your message to them is communicated through your facial expressions and body language.  You are attending to their presence, their words, and their message with acceptance and an open heart.  And you can show this when you:

  • Face the person.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Let your body language reflect their body language.

Trying to put ourselves in the place of another with our imaginations is a principle of etiquette practiced in all cultures.  When we actively imagine how we might be coming across, most often things smooth over.

Communicating with empathy and understanding can only happen when words, tone, and physical expressions are aligned.  You not only convey your message effectively, but you also create a genuine connection.  The way you say things is so important because it doesn’t just determine what someone hears, it creates a perception and leaves an impression of you on someone else.  And you get to decide what that impression will be.

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