Tone Matters!

Tone matters! This was the advice from Joe Biden, United States Vice President at a retreat for US Congress Democrats early in the New Year. His point was that civility is an absolutely necessity when dealing with people. His advice followed the tragic shootings in America which left six people dead, 14 injured and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life. The shootings, widely believed to have been fuelled by the vitriolic and gun-totting rhetoric of some politicians was a wake-up signal to Americans many of whom now believe that the new political tone has deviated from the civility of the past. In other words, tone matters.

Modern day life is rather complicated with people facing all kinds of problems and challenges. This means that tone really does mater when we speak to people. A difficult message or rebuke can be passed on to the hearer with a warm and good tone making it easier to accept and to handle. In fact, what makes a harsh word easy to handle is always the tone with which the message is delivered.

The Yorubas have a saying that literally translates ‘”Sorry’ can either be ‘male’ or ‘female’ depending on how it is said.” The ‘male’ sorry is said with sarcasm, totally devoid of any form of empathy and even with a hint of anger. However, the ‘female’ sorry would be the type we all love to hear from people close to us when something goes wrong. It is the ‘sorry’ that is kind, compassionate and empathetic. The difference between these two types of ‘sorry’ is nothing else but the tone with which they are said.

The ability to pass on difficult and perhaps controversial messages is referred to as diplomacy. Someone once made up her own definition of diplomacy as ‘the ability to tell a person to go to hell and the person looks forward to the trip.’ Funny as this may sound; it does echo some truth in what the power of diplomacy can achieve. Diplomacy in speaking is certainly a skill which every person should strive to learn. Some people just have this by nature but many more people have to work hard at getting a grip of it. It is of utmost importance that everyone particularly those who have leadership roles of any sort understand the importance of communicating with the proper tone and using the right words.

People in authority do have the responsibility to nurture those they lead. Leaders, managers and supervisors have a reasonable degree of influence over the people they lead or manage. This makes their words weighty and of a much higher impact to the hearers. Responsible leaders should therefore handle any form of leadership role very seriously, having at the back of their minds that they have a role to nurture and to build up their followers. This means that a leader can not afford to take for granted the impact his words can have over the lives of people who listen to them. Words should be chosen wisely and carefully considered when dealing with people. Everyone should also seek to understand the implications of the choice of their words over other people.

Let us consider a man or woman that holds an important position in society and who has recently become your mentor. This is a person you look up to as a good and decent leader, perhaps he is someone you wish to emulate as you progress in your career. One way or another, we all have someone who occupies such a role in our lives. For some it may be a lecturer whose approach is fresh and progressive or it may be a religious leader. In some cases it may even be a parent or a family member who is understanding and kind when all other people do not seem to understand. Even young people who may be students or learning a trade may be surprised to know that some teenagers may be looking up to them and holding on to everything that they say. We therefore need to be careful not only with what we say but how we say it because somebody, somewhere may be influenced negatively or even damaged by our tone.

We all have the need to learn how to make ‘tone’ work in our favour when we relate to people. It makes a world of a difference in what people hear and how it makes them feel. The following are further points in this regard:

· Your tone is often a matter of choice; you can deliver the same message with a choice of a harsh or a warm tone.

· Try to put yourself in the position of the hearers, what can you hear? If you don’t like what you hear then change the tone.

· Your tone has the power to build up or to tear down a situation or a person.

· You can be firm and strict about a situation without using a harsh or nasty tone.

· Regularly using a bad tone will eventually become a habit that might ruin your life or even your career as everyone tags you as nasty.

· Being gracious with your tone costs the giver nothing but deeply enriches the hearers.

· Being gracious also buys the giver unspeakable goodwill.

· Tone matters! Watch yours.

We all benefit when we do things right!