What is hardest? To find the truth after scolding a child or to treat her in a respectful manner before knowing the truth?
It’s estimated that around 70 % of what we perceive is from nonverbal communication. That includes among other things body language, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, but also pitch of tone and which words that are stressed. You can often tell when someone is lying or doesn’t mean what they say due to the difference between what they say and how they behave. Since we are most often unaware of our nonverbal communication and thus it reflects our feelings it’s not strange that we listen more to nonverbal signals than the words being spoken when the words and behavior don’t match. This is a matter of authenticity, something many of us struggle with, but my primary focus in this article is the nonverbal part of what we say.
When we speak it’s not the words that matter, but how we say them.
I’ll divide how we say things into three subcategories; pitch of tone, emphasis and the actual interest in knowing the truth.
The same word or sentence can have several completely different meanings depending on how they are being said. While the receiver of a message often is very aware of the differences, the sender of the message isn’t necessarily always aware of how others perceive it.
“What are you doing?” or “What are you doing?” or “What are you doing?”
“What have you done?” or “What have you done?” or “What have you done?”
Try reading these sentences with the emphasis on the bold word. How would you feel if you were to be spoken to when the emphasis is on the last word in these sentences?
While emphasis and pitch of tone tend to alarm, set the tone of a dialog and easily erode a constructive conversation since it doesn’t open up to an open and constructive dialogue, it’s our interest in the truth that really makes a difference.
Often we adults speak with a tone that isn’t just demanding of an answer but also accusing and assuming what had happened even though we might not have been present when a situation occurred like an argument between siblings or something’s been damaged. It’s hard to get children, or any person for that matter to willingly speak with you in a polite and friendly manner when they are being met with an emphasis on the wrong word and a pitch of tone that isn’t friendly. And it’s even harder, if not impossible to get any cooperation without threats or bribes.
So what about this interest in the truth? Well, that is the matter that often determines the pitch of tone and emphasis. Most people don’t like it when others misbehave in traffic, like speeding or driving recklessly and we tend to judge these people as bad people, irresponsible people, careless people. But sometimes when we might behave the same way in traffic, we don’t see ourselves as bad, reckless or irresponsible persons. Instead, we blame it on momentary stress. We judge others characters while it could be a situation causing them to drive faster and more reckless, like my husband when we went to the hospital when I was to give birth. It’s the same thing with our children, if we perceive their, in our eyes, wrongdoings without interest in their story or perspective it will probably make us annoyed or angry since we already made up our minds of what their purpose was. But just as we get mad when someone is speeding, we would probably be more understanding if we knew the speeding driver actually was rushing to the hospital for his wife was about to give birth to a child. It’s likewise with understanding the intention of our children’s doings.
Imagine yourself stepping into the kitchen where your children are at. There are spaghetti, and half cut vegetables on the floor, ketchup on the walls, the stove is on, and the fridge is wide open. It’s a mess, and you might be quite angry for the mess they made and for turning on the stove without permission and supervision. But if your children would explain that they’ve seen you stressed lately and that they wanted to make you dinner to relieve your stress and see you happy, you would probably look at the situation differently.
Often, the first thing we do is to talk with a demanding and accusing pitch of tone and emphasis, which puts a constructive dialogue about the situation or happening at risk. Instead, if possible, always try to find out what their real purpose was or what really happened and then adjust your pitch of tone.
I don’t know which one is the hardest, to see the truth after scolding a child or to treat the child respectfully before knowing the truth. Which is it for you?