Hello everyone.

This is Mike Delvaux, consultant for Verbal Defense & Influence.

Tone is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It is also one of the most dangerous. On average, the tone of a verbal interaction is about 5 times as influential as the content.

We have all heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say it’s how you say it.” This is very true. Tone is what they hear in addition to what is actually said. For example, if someone asks you a question that the answer to seems so obvious that you cannot believe they could not figure it out on their own, the answer could very easily come across as sarcastic and belittling.I can use the same word and keep the tone positive and not create a defensive atmosphere.

How tone can change perception

If you are standing next to the bathrooms and someone asks where the bathrooms are, your natural tendency may be to react in a sarcastic tone, “It’s right over there, by the big sign that says BATHROOM.” But what do you think they hear at the end of the statement? Idiot!

If we are in a customer or public service profession, we not only risk upsetting that person but also our employer when the customer complaint is filed. A much better response would be to repress the gut reaction to what I may feel to be a senseless question and respond in a positive tone, “I sure can. It’s right over there. The sign for it is right by that door.” The difference is learning to respond rather than react.

Respond with the proper tone

Reaction is acting instinctively, like swerving to avoid an animal that suddenly appears in the road. The problem with this reaction is that I may swerve into oncoming traffic. Responding is thinking about how to best deal with a situation ahead of time and developing a better response to it.

This is what Verbal Defense and Influence does. It gives alternatives to gut reactions, especially when we have to remain responsive in stressful situations. When I feel like judgmentally reacting to a question or comment I instead respond by modifying my tone to sound more supportive and understanding. Instead of reacting to verbal abuse, I use the right words and tone to deflect and redirect the other’s negativity so I do not get caught up in it.

When I need to get others to do things, I’ve learned it is best to ask them to do something rather than to tell them. I’ve found that even asking can come across in a non-asking tone and not be very effective. One might think that, “Would you clean up your room please?” sounds like a request but if it has an insistent tone to it, it’s not going to be perceived as one so it will not be as effective.

I can use the same word and keep the tone positive and not create a defensive atmosphere. If they throw out a, “Why do I have to do that?”, it is best to respond with a good reason in a helpful tone rather than reacting with a “Because I said so.” or “Because those are the rules.”

Using the right tone

In the past, when I tried to convince someone to do something they really did have to do I’ve reacted with a tone that implied, “You’re going to do it, or else.” A much better response is to keep the dialogue positive by laying out positive options, then keeping a positive tone even while explaining the negative options, and then finishing with another positive with something like, “Can you work with me on this?”

The bottom line is that the right tone can make all the difference in a verbal encounter, whether we are giving information or giving direction, people will feel less disrespected and will be less likely to become or remain confrontational.

Mike Delvaux
Verbal Defense & Influence Consultant




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