The rise and fall of the human voice has more subtleties than the most dramatic piece of classical music.
While language can be carefully selected and body language practiced, it is often the variations in the tone of your voice that will reveal your true feelings. On the other hand, if a tone is deliberately forced to achieve a certain goal, misinterpretations can easily occur. The normal rhythms of speech come so naturally that any deviation (forced or otherwise) can raise a subconscious red flag for the listener. If you say something differently to the way you would normally say it, you can be sure that it will register on some level.
When a listener has even the slightest feeling of disconnect, they will hone in on other signs of incongruence in your facial expressions and body language. They will no longer be listening properly, they will be analysing.
“That didn’t sound right. What is wrong?”
Misunderstandings happen all the time – the importance of considering your tone when delivering a message cannot be emphasised enough. I would like to share a personal example from a couple of week’s back:
In my capacity as a governor at my children’s primary school, I have semi-regular meetings with the Headteacher to discuss various matters. I would like to think that we have a great and more importantly honest relationship, and generally I am good at not letting my parental hat get in the way of school matters. However, a week ago, my daughter came home with what seemed like hellishly difficult maths homework. We struggled through the university-level question together, and thoroughly enjoyed learning about how to tackle it together.
I walked into school the next day and thought about whether I should mention it to the Headteacher. I felt awkward, but felt that I should mention how delighted I was that the school were testing their pupils (and their parents) in this way. The first few words came out all wrong:
“I wanted to have a word about my daughter’s maths homework.”
You could see the headteacher’s face whiten ever so slightly, lips pursing, anticipating the criticism to come. Had I chosen the wrong words? No, they were fairly innocuous. Was my body language suggesting aggression? No, I was sitting down in my chair. Had my tone deviated from my “normal” easy-going cadence? Well, yes, it probably had and the Headteacher picked up on it immediately.
It then took me a while to explain that the impossible homework was a good thing, although it turns out that we got the wrong end of the stick in any case and we had been trying to solve a very different problem to the one that was actually set.
So, just one awkwardly delivered sentence derailed at least ten minutes of our precious time. I learned a lesson that day. How you deliver a message matters, but if you have a difficult message to deliver, just speak normally. It is almost impossible to have full control over your tone – the listener will have a hard enough time dealing with your message in any case, let alone trying to interpret why you are delivering the message so awkwardly.
People can always tell by your tone. Keep it natural!
Written by Alex Turner, Edited by Paul Drury