When it comes to communication, what you say means less than how you say it. In fact, researchers have long found that communication comes first of all from body language, followed by tone of voice, with the words you speak coming in last. This makes your tone of voice a crucial component of communication.
Consider how even simple everyday statements might sound with a different tone of voice. Depending on how you say it, “great job” might sound like an enthusiastic compliment, sarcasm, or perhaps even an angry insult. Effective communication requires an understanding of your tone of voice and the ability to control it to help communicate not only your message but your intent.
What Is Tone of Voice?
Your tone of voice is the way in which you speak. In addition to nonverbal communication, tone of voice is a critical element of communication that helps to communicate your intent. Your tone of voice is made up of several factors, which include volume, pace, pitch, and inflection.
It is easy to imagine how volume can affect the way in which people interpret what you are saying. Imagine how differently a conversation may proceed if you were to yell everything—or if you were to whisper it. However, volume does not need to be taken to these extremes to have a significant impact on how people will interpret the meaning of spoken words.
Speaking loudly will often seem aggressive and brash, particularly if the speaker has a fast pace, which we will discuss next. In contrast, speaking too quietly may lead listeners to feel that the speaker lacks confidence. It is important to find balance and to match your volume to the situation.
Another major factor of tone is how quickly you speak. Speaking slowly can help to communicate your message clearly; however, speaking too slowly may seem demeaning and offensive. Yet, if you speak too fast, it may appear aggressive or even be difficult to understand. To effectively communicate, it is important to speak at a steady and even pace. In general, a slightly slow and even pace allows listeners to focus on the message and avoid a loss of communication.
Pitch and Inflection
Your pitch is how high or low your voice sounds, as well as how it fluctuates during communication. A high-pitched voice can sound immature or uncertain; in contrast, a low-pitched voice generally is interpreted as serious and authoritative. Additionally, the way pitch fluctuates throughout a conversation can affect the way it is interpreted, such as how when pitch suddenly grows high at the end of a sentence, it generally means the speaker is asking a question.
Inflection is the change in pitch or loudness of the voice. This can be caused by the emotion that shows in your voice, and it will contribute to other people’s understanding of what you are saying. Therefore, you might consider practicing controlling your voice when you speak to make sure that you are using a tone that communicates the emotions you wish to convey.
The Importance of Tone of Voice
No matter whom you are communicating with—colleagues, acquaintances, or loved ones—your tone of voice is a critical factor in building and maintaining relationships. Your tone is the critical filter through which the words you speak will be interpreted.
This makes it crucial to ensure that the tone of voice you use and the emotions it conveys match what you wish to communicate. This means being mindful and actively adjusting your tone to match the situation. The only way to improve your tone of voice and communication skills is to regularly practice them, whether it is in your daily life by yourself or in a group setting with others.
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