Tone of Voice

by Trudy Brunot
Children have a limited vocabulary and take their cues from tone of voice.

Children have a limited vocabulary and take their cues from tone of voice.

Your voice does more than combine sounds to form words: It conveys your mood, emotion and perspective. Tone of voice is your ability to change the meaning of the words you say by changing your pitch, intonation, volume and tempo. Because listeners use sound to interpret your message, being sensitive to how your tone of voice affects what they hear can make you a better communicator.

At the Mall

A trip to the bank, grocery store or dry cleaners can lead you to rely on different tones of voice. For example, you had to say, "Excuse me," four times, in four different ways. Your "friendly" tone of voice expressed concern as you said, "Excuse me" to get the attention of someone who had just dropped a glove. A louder voice and emphasis on the word "me" showed your indignation at the teen who jumped the line. When the person behind the counter said she couldn't help you, you indicated your disbelief in a query: "Excuse me?" and a higher-pitched voice. Finally, when you saw a shoplifter in action, you repeated the phrase quickly and more loudly each time to convey urgency and to get the manager's attention.

On the Town

Parties make prime occasions to observe how people use tone of voice to communicate. As you mingle among guests, you might hear people say, "That's interesting," yet you can interpret the phrase in several ways. One voice sounds animated and says, "That IS interesting," which tells you the person finds the topic being discussed new or fascinating. Another tone gives you the impression he doesn't see how anyone could have such an opinion by asking, "That’s interesting?" and stressing the last word, while you detect a touch of sarcasm in a third conversation by the monotone sound that the speaker used with both words.

Phone a Friend

When you text friends, you rely on words and punctuation to get your point across. But, without hearing your voice, your friends may misinterpret the message. Sending a text such as, "I didn’t say Carol knew John," may cloud the information you want them to have. During a call, however, your tone of voice and the words in that same phase you emphasize clarify your intention. For example, you imply that someone else said it when you emphasize "I," or that Carol knew someone else if you stress "John." Accentuating "knew" tells your listener that Carol wasn't acquainted with John. Although the words remain unchanged, your tone of voice alters the meaning for listeners.

First Encounters

Sensitivity to tone of voice becomes important when meeting people. A soft voice tells you the person with whom you're speaking is shy, while a loud, strong voice lets you know he's overconfident or aggressive. You can put a new acquaintance at ease by speaking slowly and indicate your happiness when you speak melodically. Tone of voice is a two-way street, however. If your partner responds to you in a monotone voice, you may be boring her.

About the Author

Trudy Brunot began writing in 1992. Her work has appeared in "Quarterly," "Pennsylvania Health & You," "Constructor" and the "Tribune-Review" newspaper. Her domestic and international experience includes human resources, advertising, marketing, product and retail management positions. She holds a master's degree in international business administration from the University of South Carolina.

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