Set the right tone

The art of communicating — part 1

Which one do you love? Photo

“The name’s Bond, James Bond.”

It’s instantly recognizable isn’t it.

Which Bond did you hear in your head? Was it the deep, sultry Scott, Sean Connery or the perfectly shaped London accent of Pierce Brosnan? Maybe it was the gritty voice of Daniel Craig? Whoever came to mind, this line is a classic and it’s just as much about how the line is said, the execution and the delivery as it is about the words themselves that make it instantly recognisable.

What about this one.

“I’ll be back.”

You heard Arnie, didn’t you?

Again, it’s not the words he used that makes it one of his most repeated lines, it’s how he says them. His tone.

The lines would never have been the same if someone else said them! Photo:

This is true for all the memorable lines. Imagine either of those lines being delivered by Talking Tom or a high-pitched Paris Hilton. They’ve totally lost their spark. They’re no longer that great

When we decide to develop our communication, what tends to get overlooked is a fundamental piece of the puzzle. Our tone.

It’s not about what you say but rather how you say it. The tone is communicating both the words we use and also our emotion. In written communication, it can really express our personality too.

When we’re communicating we’re using all of our senses. If our tone and our non-verbals – our body language and facial expressions – aren’t matching with the words we use then our message isn’t congruent and, in the end, no matter what we say with the words we use, what we say with our tone is the message the receiver hears.

Our tone tells the truth, it communicates what we really mean. Hell, we can even surprise ourselves when we’re a little unaware of our true feelings.

Remember again, it’s not necessarily what you say that matters. How you say it is what makes it memorable.

Tone includes a number of variables. Let’s take a closer look.

Firstly, it’s about emphasis. Notably, our tone changes completely depending on what words we choose to emphasise. Have a read of the sentence below. Each time you read it, change your emphasis to the word in bold.

I didn’t say she ate my lunch

I didn’t say she ate my lunch

I didn’t say she ate my lunch

I didn’t say she ate my lunch

I didn’t say she ate my lunch

I didn’t say she ate my lunch

I didn’t say she ate my lunch

By changing your emphasis each time you read the sentence, you change the meaning completely.

What really happened to the lunch? Photo:

Next, it’s demeanour

Our demeanour should change depending on what we’re communicating. If we need to send a clear strong message or to be seen as assertive then our tone should be authoritative, steady, strong and confident. Our voice will generally deepen to articulate our point at the end of sentences — like we’re not asking, we’re telling. This sort of tone gives the perception of authority.

If we’re communicating in a more social setting, want to be a little more welcoming or when emotions are high, we need to use a more approachable tone and a more friendly demeanour. Generally, our voice pattern is lilting with a lot of ups and downs. We may have more of a rising inflexion at the end of sentences like we would if we’re asking a question.

Finally, be aware of tone in all alternative communication. Our tone comes across even stronger over the phone or in written communication than it does in our face-to-face interactions. This is because we don’t get the visual. We can’t see body language or facial expression so interpret tone. Be considered when choosing your words. I mentioned before that tone communicates our emotion, well poor tone can impact the emotions of the person listening. We’ve all had THAT text before…

Photo: sweet ice cream photography

Call to action

Be more aware. When conversations don’t go the way we want, it’s generally not because of what we said but about how we said it. We are often unaware of our tone or how it sounds to others so the best way to start learning is to ask for feedback. Once you’ve started getting the feedback, you should be able to notice it yourself. If you’re not getting the responses you want from what you’re saying, try changing your tone.

Until next time,


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About the Author

Rebecca Sharp is a lover of learning, driver of talent, passionate about people, and an advocate for lifelong learning. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.