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Improve your tone of voice in communication

How tone of voice affects relationships

It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Tone of voice often means much more than what you say  

In his book, The Relationship Cure, Dr. Gottman reveals that when it comes to assessing the meaning of communication in relationships, only 7% of that meaning comes from the spoken word, while 38% comes from the tone of voice in communication.

Words that may seem neutral can become provoking if spoken with a sarcastic, demeaning or contemptuous tone of voice, causing the listener to feel hurt and disrespected. A soft tone of voice is often interpreted as lack of confidence – but too loud, and you’ll be seen as aggressive.

You want your listener to focus on your words, not be distracted by your demeanor. You need to learn how to watch your tone – and use it to get what you want.  

What is tone of voice in communication?

Your tone of voice is the manner in which you speak to someone, not just your words. Along with nonverbal cues like body language and eye contact, tone of voice is an essential element of communication that often “speaks” more powerfully than your actual words ever could. It can help you build rapport, make connections, influence others and get what you want in relationships, your career and your life.

Examples of tones of voice include formal and informal, humorous, factual, respectful, assertive, questioning and conversational. Yet every tone of voice in communication is made up of four different aspects that come together to help you get your point across. Learning how to watch your tone – and use it to achieve your goals – depends on being aware of these elements.

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Pitch

Your pitch is how high or how low your voice can fluctuate. An overly high-pitched voice can suggest immaturity and defensiveness. And if you end a sentence using a higher pitch, that can sound more like a question instead of an affirmative statement, which will only leave your partner feeling confused.

Your pitch is a powerful part of tone of voice in communication because it helps you cut through noise. When you’re needing to make a professional impression or drive in a point, a low pitch can make you seem more authoritative and serious, even if what you’re actually saying isn’t profound. Consequently, your tone of voice can have the opposite effect. If you’re constantly at a high pitch, others might assume you’re unsure about what you want to convey. This can lead to a sense of untrustworthiness that can make it harder to get what you want.

Pace

How quickly or slowly do you speak when you and your partner are in the middle of an argument? During a presentation at work? In addition to fine-tuning your talking tone, you must also be mindful of your pace. When you slow down, you can help your audience understand what you are saying and they will be better able to absorb your message. However, speaking too slowly  can be misconstrued as demeaning and offensive. To really get your message across, focus on articulating and conveying your message as clearly as possible by speaking at a steady, even pace.

A good rule of thumb, especially if you’re speaking in front of an audience, is to speak at half the speed you normally talk. This helps make sure your tone of voice is clear enough so everyone in the audience can understand.

A steady and even pace is powerful because it cultivates focus. It’s much easier for your partner or audience to listen if you’re speaking slowly. It’s a lot harder for a listener to understand what you want to say and stay engaged if you don’t watch your tone and instead speak at a fast speed and string words together.

Volume

This goes without saying: Yelling at your partner will backfire, either by causing an argument or making them retreat from the conversation entirely. This is often how tone of voice affects relationships negatively, but it also applies to conversations with colleagues, family and anyone else you encounter. Speaking too loudly makes you seem aggressive and insensitive. Instead of raising your voice, if you want to emphasize something, slow the pace of your words. Pause to highlight major points or to give your audience time to take in your point.

Timbre

This is the emotional quality of your tone of voice in communication – the attitude you bring to what you say. Your audience will use this to build their understanding of what you are saying. Practice managing your voice and taking note of how you sound (e.g., frustrated, rushed, happy, sad). This will help you become more aware of the way your attitude is filtered through the inflections of your voice.

Emotionally charged words set you apart. One of the most powerful ways to cultivate a powerful tone of voice is to shift your mindset to your heart and let your message shine through your words.

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Importance of tone of voice when communicating

Whether it’s from your parents or during a marketing seminar, you’ve probably heard something about your “tone of voice” at some point in your life. But why is it so important?

Your tone of voice encompasses your words. It’s how you speak and the lasting impression words make on everyone around you. Think of your tone of voice like a personalized vocal “fingerprint” that distinguishes who you are and can tell others so much about you. Are you confident? Positive? Interesting? Humble? Empathetic? Your tone of voice in communication tells people all that and more.

Your tone of voice is powerful because it projects who you are as a person. Your friends, family, clients and partners are people just like you who respond best to words and phrases that make them feel good. But your tone of voice is at its most powerful in your romantic relationships.

How tone of voice affects relationships

While we’ve always known that tone of voice is an important part of clear communication, just how critical are things like vocal inflection, volume, and pitch when it comes to the health of your relationship? According to a 2015 study that examined hundreds of conversations from over 100 couples during marriage therapy sessions, the ability to watch your tone may be a key indicator of your relationship success.

Over the course of two years, researchers from the University of Southern California recorded hundreds of conversations from marriage counseling sessions. The researchers then analyzed the recordings, looking at things like pitch, intensity and even warbles in the voice that can indicate moments of intense emotion. They also looked at the impact one partner’s tone of voice had on the other.

To compare the data, a separate group of experts analyzed the behavior of the couples, taking special note of positive qualities like “acceptance” or negative qualities like “blame.” The researchers then tracked the couples over a period of five years to determine if there was any change in their relationship.

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Tone of voice predicts relationship success

What the researchers found about tone of voice in communication confirmed what many of us already know intuitively – that communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it. And the data showed that studying the couple’s voices, rather than their behaviors, better predicted the eventual improvement or deterioration of the relationship.

“Psychological practitioners and researchers have long known that the way that partners talk about and discuss problems has important implications for the health of their relationships. However, the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use. These findings represent a major step forward in making an objective measurement of behavior practical and feasible for couple therapists,” said collaborator Brian Baucom of the University of Utah.

Let your tone of voice shine when communicating

It’s easy to assume others know what we’re saying. This can raise issues and lead to situations where important feelings or emotions weren’t discussed.

Instead of retreating backwards and going through the motions of communicating, step forward and practice mindfulness about your tone of voice in communication and how it influences others. Becoming aware of the words you use and the type of emotion you give off when speaking is a powerful way to remain present when communicating with your partner. It’s in these moments of authenticity where barriers break down and you both can really share how you feel.

The importance of tone of voice when communicating can’t be overstated. If you want to get ahead in your career, build extraordinary relationships, raise a healthy family and create deep, lasting friendships, you must become aware of your tone of voice and how it affects your life. 

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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