Why Tone Matters

The tone of voice we use is more important than our words and second only to our body language.

Tone is used to describe aspects of many different art forms. In painting, tone is used to describe how light or dark a colour is. In music, tone is about duration, pitch and intensity. When we talk about tone in terms of communication, the tone of voice we use is more important than our words and second only to our body language. The choice of tone in any of these examples clearly has significant impact on the experience of the beholder.

When leading a team, department or an organisation our tone of voice is as important to communicating our message as the right tone of colour is to a great artist. If we are looking to engage, lead, change, or inspire people this tone is fundamental.

We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.

~ F. Nietzsche

Consider being asked questions such as:

What were you thinking..?

Why did you do that..?

How do you feel when you read these questions? What is your response?

Reading these, or indeed any written communication without context or tone, leaves the interpretation of the intention behind the question or message entirely up to the reader. Just as a piece of art, whether a painting, poem, or symphony, leaves interpretation up to the individual.

When given more context through conversation, reading an article or blog, listening to a TED talk, we have more information at hand to help us interpret the true intention of the person sharing the message. When communicating with another person face to face, we have the best hope of all of truly communicating our message, because we have all three elements of communication at hand: words, body language, and tone of voice.

Staying aware of our intention and providing the necessary context will help inform the tone of our voice and convey our message as honestly and clearly as possible. Just as with any form of self-awareness, this takes practice!

Here are five simple steps to help become more aware of your tone of voice:

  1. Identify what kind of tone you want to convey and listen for others who achieve this.
  2. Ask for feedback on the tone of your voice.
  3. Consider how ‘light’ or ‘dark’ your tone might be and how your state of mind at any given times effects this.
  4. Record yourself speaking and listen back. What do you notice?
  5. Ask yourself, “What is my intention behind this specific message?” (Is it a desire to support, provide a solution, or am I genuinely curious about the other person’s view?)

If you would like to discuss how we can support you to strengthen the conversational skills of your leaders, do get in touch.  We’d love to start a conversation.

By Emily Cosgrove