Don’t Speak With Me In That Tone!

Guest blogger Pat Noel of Talent Development Solutions LLC continues her thoughts on Mehrabian’s 7%-38%-55% Rule. Today’s focus is on tone:


Say these words out loud right now: Thanks very much!


Seems straightforward, right? Maybe a person is thanking you for your help or information you shared. Or maybe this person is upset with you and letting you know you did not meet their expectations.


When tone of voice is applied, the impact and meaning of the words can totally change. Depending on which words get an emphasis, the rise or fall of the speaker’s inflection at the end, or a volume change, the simple statement can sound friendly and grateful or sarcastic and cutting.


We have all either been accused of using the wrong tone or been on the receiving end of someone else’s tone that caused a negative reaction in us.


What exactly is tone?

Tone of voice consists of five components: Volume, Rate of speech, Inflection, Pitch, and Diction. The combination of these components creates the sense or feeling you get from the speaker’s message. As we saw in Mehrabian’s study, tone of voice is about 38% of what makes our message to a listener ‘believable.’ You can make a significant positive difference in how you communicate with others by putting a little effort into paying attention to and, as necessary, adjusting your tone of voice.


Volume is how loudly or softly you speak. If you talk too loudly, you could appear too pushy, excited, or angry. Too softly and the listener may think you are uncertain of your information or lack confidence.


The rate of speech is how quickly or slowly you speak. Too fast could seem like you really don’t care about the listener being able to follow what you are sharing. If you speak too slowly you may be sending the message that your listener is not capable of understanding you or that you lack confidence.


Inflection and pitch are sometimes considered the same thing; however, there is a difference. Pitch is the degree of how high or low your voice is in the range of tone, while inflection is the emphasis placed on certain words. For pitch, if your pitch is very high, it could be annoying for others to hear for a long time period or if too low, it can be hard to hear the words. As for inflection, adding just the right amount of inflection keeps your delivery from becoming monotone.


Try this exercise:

Say the following sentence: I did not say she lost the keys. out loud placing a greater emphasis on one of these words I, say, she, lost, keys each time. The sentence changes meaning, doesn’t it?


Diction or enunciation is how clearly you pronounce or say each word. Mumbling makes it hard for people to hear or understand what you are saying. It could also indicate a lack of confidence or little interest in participating in the conference.


It’s difficult to pay attention to our tone when speaking, so ask others you trust to give you some feedback on what they are hearing. Learning about your tone of voice and strengthening your ability to use these components effectively will add a positive dimension to your communication skills.

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