Does Your Tone of Voice
Need a Tune-up?

Boyfriend and Girlfriend Talking

Your tone of voice is, many times, more important than the words you speak.  It is the sound of your voice that reaches the ears before the brain processes the words spoken, and that sound delivers the first clue in determining if the overall message is friendly, serious, humorous, or sinister.

A problem people encounter is that they aren’t aware when their tone of voice is leaving a bad impression or hurting feelings.  One reader shared that she can be reminded to pay better attention to how she is speaking by the gift of hearing the voice of an adult figure from her past: “Watch your tone of voice!” Her memory of receiving that instruction offers her an unexpected opportunity to improve herself. 

Effective communication is the end goal in working on owning our own voices. Aiming to work on our tone of voice is a most etiquette-ful, polite thing to do, as it demonstrates self-respect and respect of others.

Unconsciously Unfriendly

Have you ever approached someone with a question or request, only to have them respond in a negative way?  Did you realize that your tone of voice may have been the cause for the unfavorable or defensive response?

Consider these common situations that have an unfriendly tone: 

  • A daughter answers her mother’s question, but with a snark at the edge of the answer, inciting an argument.
  • The person making a request of the clerk at a check-out counter doesn’t hear the shrillness in her voice and is surprised when the clerk stares at her for a moment before answering. 
  • During a business meeting, your coworker mentions a recent decline in sales numbers in a harsh tone that suggests the team isn’t making an effort.  The side conversations after the meeting indicate a decline in morale, too.

Each of these situations could have elicited a different reaction or response if the communication had been delivered in a friendlier, gentler, or more understanding tone. Being aware of how your words are spoken is key to having your message received effectively.

Practicing Your Tone of Voice

“Voices have a language of their own and communicate much more than the words that they say.”  

~ Indu Muralidharan

Being aware of the sound of your voice is important. Especially if your line of work requires you to speak with people on a regular basis.  

  • Record yourself speaking on your phone’s video setting. It’s best to place the phone such that the focus is just your voice and you’re not distracted watching your face.
  • Video yourself “trying on” different conversational voices.  Role play alone, hearing your many pitches, ranging from “soft” to “assertive,” even “aggressive.”  Play the game with more than one person.  Give each other feedback.  
  • Record the audio of your participation in a business meeting, video conference, or phone call. Afterwards, evaluate your tone of voice as if you were giving feedback to someone else.  This is a great awareness exercise.  

Once you’ve heard yourself speak conversationally and have assessed where you might make improvements, it’s time to create a practice for yourself.  

  • Remain aware of your tone of voice and make note of how fast you talk and how high and low your voice gets.
  • Practice varying your vocal pitch with a goal of not sounding monotone.  Stress important words as you speak to practice emphasis.
  • Try speaking in a lower, softer tone as a practice for calming or comforting the person to whom you are speaking.
  • Especially if you note that you are a fast talker, practice speaking slowly and then at varied paces.  At what pace are you most audible and clear?  What emotions are you communicating to your listener at slower vs. faster paces?
  • Find a speaker you admire who is also an effective communicator.  You might search for audio recordings or videos of this person online.  Practice speaking along with them to mimic their tone, pace, and word inflections.  Then carry this practice into your daily conversations with others.

In everyday speech, tone of voice, along with volume, pause, and emphasis all work together for clear communication.  Caring about our speech habits, and specifically our tone of voice, helps us express ourselves more clearly and vibrantly, creating connections with other people. After all, isn’t this the ultimate goal of effective communication?

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