Sydney Gideon, MSW

Rick Hanson, Ph.D, discusses the importance tone of voice has on effective communication in an article on Psychology Today. Understanding the impact our personal emotions can have on how we communicate and the tone of voice we use is vital to engaging in pleasant and constructive conversations with people. Individuals are incredibly sensitive to other’s tone of voice more so than the words being said. Imagine speaking to your dog asking them if they want a treat and think what your tone of voice would be. No imagine yelling in an angry tone but saying the same words, asking your dog if they want a treat. While this is an extreme example our brains are programmed to pick up on negative factors over positive factors. As a result, even if the words being spoken are kind, an individual may leave an interaction feeling badly as a result of the tone of voice used. Using “tart tone”, as it’s referred to in the discussed article, can cause the person on the receiving end to respond in a hurtful way towards you and others they come into contact with.

While focusing on your tone of voice can have a positive impact on your interactions with others, it can also give you greater insight into yourself and your emotions. By taking the time to become conscious of your tone you’re able to become aware and be mindful of positive or negative feelings you may be having. By giving yourself the opportunity to identify and clarify how you’re feeling, you allow yourself the time and space to address whatever negative emotions may be manifesting themselves in your mind and body. By doing so, you allow people to respond to you in more favorable ways. When speaking with a negative tone, both you and the person you’re speaking to are poorly impacted.

There are many different factors contributing to how we approach the world, our day, and interactions with individuals. If your day started with your alarm not going off, you spilled coffee on yourself in your rush to work, and realized there was a meeting you unintentionally missed, it’s likely your mindset will not allow you to have a productive conversation with a colleague, friend, or anyone else you may encounter in this moment. This concept is called “priming” meaning the events of your day, interactions with others, or information you may have received has set the stage for interactions in the immediate future. If you’re already feeling upset or disrespected it’s likely even the slightest comment could be taken the wrong way. As a result, your response could be in a tone of voice that impacts the receiving individual leading them to be negatively primed for their following interactions. This cycle can continue until someone becomes mindful of their tone or takes a break in order to disrupt the pattern.

While shifting your tone, if taken to an extreme, can come off as phony or turn an individual into a pushover, typically individuals become more effective communicators than before. Taking the time to center yourself and identify the meaning and motives behind your words and tone can change the course and outcome of the interaction. This also give you the chance to take a step back and examine an interaction to see if there was a different way for you to communicate your point in a previous interaction or if the way you’re planning on approaching an upcoming conversation could be modified to be more effective.

It may seem difficult to change your verbal responses in the heat of the moment or remember to take a step back and examine how you may be feeling internally. Developing these skills and getting in a routine of consciously making time to reflect takes time. Inevitably, at some point, we will all find ourselves in a situation we know we could have handled better. In these situations it’s valuable to explain how you were primed to react a certain way and the circumstances that lead to you to respond the way you did. Taking responsibility, offering an explanation, and not attempting to make excuses is a necessary step to more positive and effective communication.