“Watch your tone” is a phrase that brings back memories of an unhappy mother who was less than thrilled with my choice of delivery. Her distress usually wasn’t because of the content of my communication but because of the attitude that accompanied whatever information I was trying to convey.
Such a situation rings true the old adage “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” We often tend to focus heavily on the content of our communication, overlooking the details of our delivery, which may ultimately prevent us from obtaining the desired outcome.
The emphasis on content alone is probably a direct result of modern technology. If you break down how you communicate with others throughout the day, it is mostly electronic — email, IMs and text messages, all forms in which content is king and delivery and tone are not necessarily important. With the convenience and ease of these technological advances, we often lose the ability to connect meaningfully with others using the sound of our voices and risk misinterpretation. Sarcasm, for example, generally doesn’t translate effectively without tone and, as far as I know, there is currently no emoticon that would signify sarcasm (Maybe :& ?)
Effective use of tone and delivery of content can lead to a more meaningful exchange of ideas. In an extreme example, it has become very popular now in Senegal, a country where half of the population is under the age of 18, to rap the news. The idea has caught on and has spread to Ivory Coast, Benin and Rwanda. My guess is, this delivery generates a more captive audience that probably has a greater likelihood of remembering the content.
Of course, delivery must be appropriate for the circumstance — you probably wouldn’t want to rap while speaking before a judge in court. However, when used appropriately, the method of delivery may greatly enhance the absorption of certain information and lead to a better outcome.
Tone is equally as important. Tone conveys attitude and enthusiasm for whatever subject matter is being addressed. Ron Shapiro’s “The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins – Especially You!” details how it is in the best interest of negotiators to approach negotiating with a civil demeanor and implement objective goals, which can greatly reduce antagonism.
Tone is a tool that can articulate this civility and when you enter into a negotiation showing that you intend to work with the other side, you build rapport and earn respect. In turn, you have a greater likelihood of walking away with a better outcome than if you used a nasty, impatient and uncompromising tone.
On a Venn diagram, where one circle is tone and the other is delivery, the intersecting portion would contain body language, facial expression and general demeanor. These aspects of communication will also affect the outcome.
You’ve done the research, the writing, the due diligence, the preparation for your negotiation, presentation, conference, etc. Your content is ready to go. Don’t sell yourself short by failing to consider appropriate tone and delivery for your endeavor. It can make a big difference, most likely in your favor.