Stop Betraying Yourself: Mastering Your Tone of Voice
Posted by Anni M.
Communication is a slippery concept. We communicate with everything we do: our movements, our eye contact, our attire, our tardiness, the way we stand, the tilt of our heads, the words we use, and our tone of voice. We can learn to control many of these. We can train our bodies to stand straighter and our eyes to be still. We can calm our restless hands. We can improve our wardrobe. These are all relatively simple changes and they do make a big difference in our overall presentation. But perhaps the most important communication tool of all is also the most difficult to control: our tone of voice.
Our tone communicates volumes. It can be used to evoke authority, but can also betray our inner feelings. The same words spoken with different inflections can relay opposite messages. For example, the phrase, “Why don’t you just try it?” can have myriad meanings. Said calmly and kindly, it’s an encouragement. Said with a hostile lilt, it communicates frustration, irritation, and impatience. Our emotions lay behind our words. They color the sounds of a voice. They push words out angrily, or with fear. They betray our innermost thoughts. Some of us are masters at controlling tone. These people can mask their feelings, holding them tightly to the chest. While this may ultimately be harmful to their inner selves (suppressing feelings can have negative emotional consequences) it is an enviable skill in business.
I am a very emotional person. I’ve never been able to separate my emotions from my rational brain. On an average day, it’s not a huge problem. But if I have excess stress in my life—I’ve had a fight with my husband, I’m overloaded with work, or a good friend is sick—my feelings bleed into everything I say and do. I know this about myself—I am unable to control my feelings, no matter how hard I try—so I do my best to avoid important face-to-face networking events, meetings, or confrontations on emotional days. I plan my business around my emotional state. This is an extreme example. Most people can learn to control themselves much better than I can. Still, it demonstrates that even the most uncontrollably emotional among us can control exposure, and this alone is a kind of mastery.
For those of us who struggle with control only occasionally, consider exercise. I know it may sound silly, but having a physical vent for cooped up emotional energy can change the whole trajectory of a day. I find early morning exercise works best. It sets the tone and helps me work through any residual emotional baggage from the day before. While exercise can definitely help with controlling your tone, professional athletes often demonstrate that exercise alone is not enough. Here is Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny losing his temper on the field:
Controlling tone of voice has to be done on the fly and emotions can rage in an instant. Practice control in every part of your life and be proud when you do it well. The more level-headed you can be internally, the easier it will be to handle frustration and stress when it arises. We can’t control frustration, we can only control our reactions to it.
As a Creative Communications Strategist, Victoria is known for her electrifying Keynote Performances™ and the transformational workshops and coaching sessions she creates for elite executives, high performing teams, thought leaders and entrepreneurs..