“Watch your tone young lady!”  How many of you heard that from your parents more than once in your teenager-parent communication? Ironic, isn’t it, that this exclamation was typically made with the exact tone that elicited such a response?

As many of you know, communication is one of my favorite topics and the book, Crucial Conversations my communication bible. I am never surprised that communication is always the central key issue in any organization, team or relationship. It’s either working well, or it isn’t.

Let’s start with the tone of our voices.  Consider the following phrases:

  1. YOU aren’t going to wear that, are you?
  2. You aren’t going to WEAR that, are you?
  3. You aren’t going to wear THAT, are you?

See how each sentence, with the same words, but with different emphasis, takes on a different meaning.

  1. YOU aren’t going to wear that, are you? [Someone else might wear it?]
  2. You aren’t going to WEAR that, are you? [You might carry it instead?]
  3. You aren’t going to wear THAT, are you? [It’s inappropriate to wear.]

It is well known that our verbal communication is made up of the words we use, the tone, and the body language we use as well.  Our brains are quickly firing off complex networks of synapses that pull together all three methods for the complete message we want to send. We need to be aware of our tone in every conversation in order to improve our communication skills.

If you are in need of this kind of improvement here are some ideas to polish your communications skills:

1. Observe your tone throughout the week in various conversations and track the number of times you find yourself using a tone that you really didn’t intend.  You may need to practice apologizing and repeating yourself with a different spirit.

2. Use a ‘Sky Is Blue’ montra as suggested in Crucial Conversations.  If you approach a conversation with the same tone that you would use to say “the sky is blue”, your tone will be unemotional, calm and without judgment. This is the best tone to use to prevent escalation of an argument, or even when approaching a delicate subject.

Bad communication is especially exacerbated by the lack of tone we have in our written messages. Emojies can help, but they only go so far. Here are some tips for both writing and reading e-mails and texts without the benefit of tone:

Writing emails and texts: select your writing tone.

1. Never use ALL CAPS, unless you really want your reader to think you are screaming at the top of your lungs. This one is obvious.

2. Re-read your message, or have someone else read it before sending and ask what kind of flavor they perceive from your message.

3. Be up front in your message about the spirit you intend so there is no misunderstanding. For example:

“Please read the following message with my intention of collaborating and problem solving in order for us to come up with the best solution.”

If it seems too hard to respond without an emotional tone, you might want to pick up the phone instead and have a conversation in order to resolve any issues before it becomes a larger problem, e.g. a long e-mail string with 10 people copied.

Reading emails and texts: select your listening tone.

1. Before reading an email from someone that typically causes you stress, think of a pleasant tone that you can apply to the message. At the very least, read it with a ‘Sky Is Blue’ mentality.

2. Assume a positive intent from the author. Most of the time, we are all on the same team and trying to accomplish a similar outcome.  We have much more in common than we have differences.

3. Never take anything personally. Most communications are not meant to be a spearheaded dig at who we are as people. Most of us are just rational individuals trying to do a good job.