Tone of Voice: The Impact on Others

Body language and tone of voice – not words – are our most powerful assessment tools” 
Christopher Voss

I think the tone of voice is a very underestimated tool.  I say tool because it is one.  Our tone can either enhance others lives or impact it detrimentally.

I never really paid much attention to my tone of voice towards others, or myself actually.  It was only about a year ago when I became aware that it needed looking at.  I’d received a comment about my tone of voice from a couple of people, telling me that I sounded direct, abrupt and curt on occasions, which didn’t sit all that well with me.

Their feedback could’ve impacted me in one of two ways:  either I put my guard up, react defensively and show signs of a fragile ego, or I listen to what they’re saying with the view to assess and reflect on it.

So, I started to evaluate myself from that moment on as I thought they had a point.  I admitted to myself that there’s truth in their words and I need to make some changes.

My first step was to consciously observe the tone of my voice during all interactions – or as many as I could.  As I was talking I was noticing where and when my tone was changing during a conversation, and in what situations specifically.

Now, when we feel threatened and the need to defend ourselves, our tone of voice will inevitably change as that’s the way our human nature is programmed, but I realised I was being defensive more than I ought to, which is why the tone of my voice was direct and abrupt at times.

And when I wasn’t being defensive, guess what? I was nice and calm around others and my tone reflected that.

It’s not rocket science, hey?

But, it’s easier said than done, so I had to be very mindful during every conversation I was having and pay close attention to how the tone of my voice sounded.  There was times when I was so conscious of trying my hardest to use a gentle, compassionate and empathetic tone towards others, yet still I received the occasional bit of feedback about how I sounded abrupt and direct.

I became frustrated at this because I was truly trying my best to change my tone, but for some reason I wasn’t quite expressing that.

Around the same time as consciously focusing on changing my tone of voice, a huge shift was happening inside me too.  I’d woken up, so my perception of myself and the world around me was changing – and quickly.  I was shedding layers of my ego (false self/old identity) and learning to love myself on a level I’d never done before.

As time went by, my self-love was growing and I was offering myself more and more compassion and empathy.  One day I came to realise that the comments about the abruptness of my tone of voice had ceased.  Not only that, I was now receiving feedback about how I have a lovely, calm and reassuring smooth voice.

I’d changed so much internally that it was showing externally through the tone of my voice, among many things.  I felt much more connected when I was having a conversation now.  It wasn’t just an exchange in dialogue; I felt what I was hearing.  I was listening and conversing from a place of compassion and empathy even if it was with someone angry or frustrated.

Adapting to my surroundings was key here.  If I was having a conversation with someone who was experiencing challenging times in their life, I was asking questions with a gentle tone to them now.  I was exploring their beliefs and emotions compassionately, which reflected in my tone.  I would pause before I asked them a question at times, doing it consciously to slow the pace and show more of a empathetic approach.

At times, I can be quite an animated person, and exaggerate certain words to emphasise a point, but this is part of my character as I’d consider myself humorous and have a sharp wit, so when I express myself I do so with the intent to make others laugh when I’m in the right environment.

The thing is, I noticed that the exaggeration I use on some words was also being carried over into my everyday speech, so if I was trying to get my point of view across, this is why I came across abrupt and sharp at times.

When the conversation called for it, I stopped exaggerating words and became much less animated.  I was aware it was impacting others in a negative way.  The slightest raise in voice on a specific word can breakdown a conversation completely.

What I learnt from all of this is that if someone is giving you feedback that you’re too direct and harsh on occasions, then they’re probably right.  Your tone of voice has much more of an impact than your words at times, so when someone dislikes your abruptness, it’s likely related to your tone.

It goes without saying that some people are extremely defensive and get triggered easily so react in anger to protect their wound, so certain words may create a reaction, but their wounds aren’t your problem.

The biggest change I’ve seen with tone of voice is when I ask questions.  I tend to ask exploratory-type questions because I’m inquisitive by nature, but also I want to get into the depths of someone to understand them completely.  Questions that were once triggering some people, now rarely do, and this is down to the change of tone in my voice.

I find lowering my tone and taking all (or as much) emotion out of it as possible when I’m asking questions draws people in closer to me and opens them up much more.  They subconsciously sense ”I feel safe”, and with this they offer you themselves completely.

Remember: your tone can quite literally change your interactions.  For this to happen effectively and organically, an inner change needs to happen by first focusing on how you talk to yourself then the rest will follow.

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