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“10% of conflict is due to differences of opinion and 90% to the tone of voice” – Anonymous
Ever heard of the expression “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”? As you grow older and become involved in many spaces, interact with people of different levels of authority – how you address and approach people will become key to a successful relationship. Your tone is just one small component of communication; however, it should never be underestimated. Improving your tone can help create a positive environment, strengthen understanding and appreciation and result in better collaboration and teamwork.
We recently unpacked the importance of running for student leadership, a major part of leadership is the tone of your voice. The tone of voice is an integral part of communication and an effective tool in public speaking. When speaking with others, your tone clarifies and conveys meaning. Your tone can not only affect how people perceive you but also their willingness to listen to you – especially in professional settings.
Different tones for different occasions
The tone of voice in communication is defined as ‘the way a person speaks to someone’. It is how you use your voice to get your point across. If you don’t do it right, there is a risk of your point getting lost or misinterpreted.
How you address your friend will probably be very different from how you address a panel of interviewers or the Vice-Chancellor of your university. In other words, you address different audiences with different tones. This is often based on familiarity. The general rule of thumb, the less “familiar” you are with the said individual, the more formal and respectful your tone should be. You can train your tone to be apt for the correct setting. There are different tones and you need to know which tone befits which setting:
- Formal tone
- Informal tone
- Factual tone
- Directive tone
- Assertive tone
- Friendly tone
- Questioning tone
- Conversational tone
- Respectful tone
- Humorous tone
Are you speaking at a wedding or a funeral? An academic lecture or a plenary of plenary of protesting students? To your grandmother or legal officer? Each of these occasions has different norms for speaking, calling for you to operate in different modes – from formal to informal, from light to heavy, humorous to serious, conversational to highly practiced.
How to improve your tone
- Think before you respond. Some of us are so quick to just respond without ever considering what we are saying and the choice of words we use. Have you ever found yourself saying to someone “I didn’t mean it like that”? If only you took a few minutes to carefully think about your choice of words and how they will be received, you might have the time to change your wording and be less offensive.
- Listen to yourself. Have you ever recorded a meeting you were speaking in? If not, you should. Take this time to learn how you interact with and speak towards others. You might even find that your own tone surprises you.
- Reflect. Most of the time, the reasoning behind a negative tone is a part of the bigger picture. If you are going through a tough time or are feeling a bit stressed, your tone can come off negatively without you even realizing it. Before you go into a space where you’ll be interacting with others, take some time to reflect on how you’re feeling. The last thing you want is to blow up on people who probably don’t deserve the negative tone.