I am sensitive to tone. When my partner’s tone of voice becomes a little sharp, even in the silence I feel the tone deeply. She is usually very loving and caring, but sometimes her tone can be a bit bossy. I am usually open to critical feedback, but when she says "I don’t agree" in a pointed, cut and dry tone, it pierces.
I want to pull away. Earlier, it used to make me want to lash out and hurt back. Nowadays I’m a bit more calibrated, and I gently attempt to change the topic of the conversation. But even today, her tone effects me. And it’s not just her. The tone of all the people who I love, who I respect and who I care for, can instantly impact me. Either we will end up with each of us wringing each other’s necks, or hugging each other in joy!
For most of us, HOW things are being said, affects us more than WHAT is being said. The closer we are to someone, the more their tone affects us. And equally, our tone affects them.
I’ve been doing some thinking to figure out how to manage my own tone better, and also how to handle myself when another’s tone pinches me and clouds my thinking.
After some analysis I came up with six different tone styles that I identified in myself and others. Being aware of these communication tonal styles and using the right tone for the right purpose can make a drastic difference in our relationships at home and work.
"I don’t care"
A deadpan, dull, low energy tone that conveys the message that I have resigned to my fate and don’t think I can make things better. I am just not interested in the person who I am speaking with and I’d rather be somewhere else. I can’t think of any situation where it makes sense to use this tone!
"Just get it done"
A tone that sounds bossy, no-nonsense, and sharp. Anything said with this tone sounds like an instruction or a command. It sometimes can be used to speed up things in emergency or high pressure situations. However in most day to day situations it kills the other’s sense of freedom, creativity and ability to think independently.
"You poor thing"
This patronising and sympathising tone disguised itself as a loving and caring tone. Ised moderately it seeks to empathise and connect. However, when overused it steals away energy from others and makes the user feel a sense of self-importance and self-righteousness.
"Life is good"
This is an aasy going, normal, relaxed and chatty tone. It is often used to share tidbits of gossip, jokes or just to create new social connections. In most normal situations using this tones sets the converstaion for fun and playfulness. However, it also makes it difficult to express one’s true feelings or talking about what is unpleasant.
"Let’s think together"
This is an open, honest, and genuinely listening state of mind that seeks to explore, brainstorm and come up with possibilities and solutions. When used in situations where their are differences of open, collaborative working and problem solving, using this tone can help get the best out of each other. This tone can be used in almost every situation but it requires genuine openness and a lot of practise.
"You are wonderful"
This is a tone that is filled with appreciation, gratitude and acceptance. It’s seeks to find the beauty and positivity that resides inside each of us. It fills the other with a sense of self belief and allows them to be themselves.
Note that these are not emotional states like anger, joy, sad etc. The six tones I mention above are communication styles. The same thing can be communicated in any of the six tones and will have a very different impact.
Now take a moment to think about your own dominant tone of communication. Think of someone very close to you. What is your default tone with them? In what situations does it work? In what situations does it cause disaster? What might be an alternate tone that might work better?
I find that as I learn to use the right tone, I can express myself more clearly, say no more easily, and help myself and others relate much more openly and meaningfully.
Watch that tone my friend, for tone is 70% of our communication!