Manage people who give you the “tone” – tone-of-voice communication

Manage people who give you the “tone” – tone-of-voice communication

You know when someone picks the tone for you, similar to when people roll their eyes? When you hear “the tone” you are told that the other person is upset.

Tone of voice is one of the hardest things to train because we don’t hear ourselves. People who set the tone for people rarely know they are doing it. One of the best ways I know of to effectively train tone of voice is to ask the sounders to record themselves during the call. Then listen to the recording together and ask the sounder, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her like that, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence aloud, adding the sound “heard” and the sender ask how he would have interpreted the message.

When the tone is given, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are restricted.

The way to avoid calling the shots is to start from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Judgmental behavior creates defensiveness that ends conversations. Curiosity creates discussions.

Consider asking questions like these to stimulate discussion:

• Tell me more about… • Help me to understand what happened here… • What do you think about… • What is the story behind….

Any of these questions will lead to a good discussion if you get your tone right.

If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage them in dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. That rarely works. Instead of overloading people with data, ask questions that provoke discussion. Discussions may get you somewhere else. And if not, at least you’ve learned why the other person thinks that way, and you’ve shared your point of view in a way that’s welcoming rather than repulsive.

It’s easy to set the tone for people when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Hold important conversations until you know you can control yourself and your tone.

About Shari Harley

Shari Harley is Founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training company bringing back openness to the workplace and making it easier to provide feedback at work. Shari is the author of the book on business communication How to Tell Everyone Anything: A Guide to Building Business Relationships That Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and conducts training courses in the United States. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

Tags: business communication, interpersonal skills, leading people, personal brand, tone of communication, tone of voice