Control Your Tone
Episode #4 of the course How to communicate like a pro by Patricia Haddock
“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” —Maya Angelou, African-American poet
Welcome back. Yesterday, you gained new skills for using your body to communicate. Today, we’re focusing on how you can control your tone in both speaking and writing.
Have you ever been reading an email and felt as if you had been slapped upside the head?
Has anyone ever accused you of being abrupt or rude, and you didn’t know that you were coming across like that?
You think that you are reading with your eyes, but as you read, you also are hearing the words in your head—just as if the writer is speaking to you.
Tone is what people hear when you speak and when they read what you have written. It creates an emotional response on the part of a reader or listener and determines how positively—or negatively—they respond.
What is the tone of this sentence? “I’m so sorry you were inconvenienced.”
What if it’s said in a sarcastic tone of voice? Your emotional response would change—and not in a good way.
The good news: You can control tone when you write and speak.
Pronouns Affect Tone
Pronouns are little words that can pack a big wallop when it comes to tone.
First person (singular). I, me, my, mine. These communicate individual responsibility. The point of view is mine.
• I will get this to you tomorrow.
• I understand what you are looking for.
First person (plural). We, us, our, ours. These communicate authority, assertiveness, and formality. The point of view is that of a group, business, or entity.
• We will get this to you tomorrow.
• We understand what you are looking for.
Second person (singular and plural). You, your, yours. You are directly addressing the reader or listener. The communication is up close and personal. This pronoun can easily upset people and make them feel defensive or even angry.
Third person (singular and plural). He, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its, they, their, them. The third-person point of view is often that of an objective narrator. Generally, it carries a neutral tone in business communication.
Short sentences have a brusque, abrupt tone; longer sentences soften the tone.
You are either a naturally positive or negative speaker and writer. Most people prefer positive wording, since it has a better tone, is easier to understand, and creates more impact:
• Negative: “If you don’t get back to me by the end of the day today, we will miss our deadline.”
• Positive: “If you get back to me by the end of the day today, we can hit our deadline.”
Here are a few tips on how to be a more positive speaker:
• Avoid saying what something isn’t; instead, use what something is.
• State things not as problems, but as solutions.
• Use positive words, and avoid negative ones like refuse, claim, failure, shouldn’t, difficult, doubt, fault, sadly, unfortunately, and others that have a negative effect on people.
• Never make the reader or listener wrong.
You can have greater impact and produce better results when you use a tone that makes the reader and listener pay attention, understand, and enjoy what you are communicating.
Step 1. Watch your use of pronouns, especially the word “you.”
Step 2. Listen to yourself when you speak and reread your writing. If you catch yourself using negative language, immediately restate or rewrite in the positive. This will help you become aware of this habit.
Tomorrow, you’ll discover how to ask questions that deliver the results you need and help you showcase your communication skills.
Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success in Work and Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott
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