The Magic of Tone of Voice

"It's not what you said, it's HOW you said it."

How many times have you heard this comment?

How many times were you misunderstood because of the way you expressed yourself?

How many times you could have avoided huge arguments only if you had communicated better?

A long list of similar questions pop into my mind as I write and your minds as you read, but all of them eventually lead to one direction and that is the "how".

Well, the "how" does not, hence, include the content of the message but the way of delivering it.

A study by Albert Mehrabian states that only 7% of the meaning of a message lies in words alone, while 93% is nonverbal. I will not be talking here about the 55% that lies in body language as I will save it for another article. However, the resting 38% is in the tone of voice; and that what this article is about.

Could that be true? Can my tone of voice really communicate more than my words? Let's see.

Take the simple difference between a statement and a question. It is true that they differ grammatically; however, we don't always use grammar to ask a question. For example, stating the word "soda" is different from asking "soda?". You find yourself changing the tone to suggest the interrogative form, in this case, asking someone if they want to drink a soda. Now, what if I say "soda!", the message is totally changed; this could mean that someone suddenly remembered to get a soda, or maybe they are thrilled to drink soda after a long hot day. Endless possibilities. Hence, with this very simple example using a common daily word, we discover that one word can have multiple different meanings by only changing the tone of voice. Therefore, YES, tone of voice does tell a whole lot beyond the words we're using.

So, established that tone of voice is much more important than the message itself, let us talk about 3 things to avoid. In order to communicate more effectively and avoid misleading tones and misunderstandings, watch your tone of voice for these 3 habits:
  1. Avoid using one tone of voice all the way - vary your tone of voice. Your audience (be it one person, a group of people, or mass public) will lose interest in what you're saying if you maintain a monotonous voice. Varying your pitch, your rapidness and the volume of your voice will keep them attentive and anticipating. Moreover, it will make what you're saying sound way more interesting.
  2. Avoid using high-pitched voice in arguments. Some people pick a high pitch and use it for a whole argument to make a point or maybe to be heard. Well, not only you're not varying your pitch, but also you're choosing a very provocative kind of pitch. It is really annoying for the ears which makes your opposing party irritated to the extent that they are not listening to what you're saying anymore, but rather trying to silence you. You did not make your point, and you were definitely not heard. So again, vary your pitch to make them want to listen and only use high-pitched voice when needed, and that is very rare.
  3. Avoid speaking with attitude. Talking with attitude is when someone uses a tone of voice that is arrogant, righteous, or that makes others feel inferior; and this is not acceptable under any circumstances. In other words, speaking with attitude is practically bullying. 
Stating these tones to avoid brings about the question of what the right tone of voice really is. It is choosing a decent tone, varied pitch, with no attitude, varying between generally acceptable volumes (not too high and not too low), and maintaining respect at all times.

Sometimes, we are not aware of our tone of voice, we talk in a certain way out of habit and out of spontaneity. If you want to spot yourself,  ask someone you trust to record your speech off guard and then listen to these recordings as if they were of someone else. This way you will be able to assess the way you talk objectively and you can spot your strengths and weaknesses and work on them.

I am sure, and speaking from experience here, this will change the whole game for you. Because, always keep in mind, it is not what we say, it's HOW we say it.

Author: Lama Lawand