Would you be offended or excited if somebody yelled that to you? You may be thinking, “Well, it depends on how they said it.” Exactly!
Imagine these two scenarios:
- Scenario 1: Two friends, Anika and Maria, are talking about the new job Maria just landed. Maria tells Anika that not only did she get the new job, but they also offered her more than she expected, and Anika’s eyes go wide as she giddily yells, “Shut up!”.
- Scenario 2: A couple is having an argument, and one person rambles on and on about something he’s upset about, shutting down every attempt by his partner to speak. Fustration begins to mount until his partner finally yells, “Shut up!”
Tone impacts influence
Tone can dramatically change the meaning of our words. In this example, “Shut up!” can convey positive or negative emotions depending on the tone used when saying them. The absence of tone can also lead to communication problems.
You may have heard that people like to hear their name. That’s true to point. For example, if you smile and say, “It’s nice to meet you, Heather.” in a friendly tone, you are likely to make a positive emotional connection. The intention, in this case, would be to build a relationship, and the tone used helps make that happen. We can all also probably remember a time when a parent said our name in a tone that clearly conveyed that we were in trouble. No other words were needed.
I saw another example of how using a certain tone when saying someone’s name conveys an entirely different meaning. I watched an interview with a politician who was not a fan of the reporter. After the reporter asked the third question, the politician sighed and said, “John, the reason this is important is because…”. The tone he used to say, “John” was dripping with condescension, and I doubt the reporter was happy to hear his name said this way. In this case, the politician intentionally used a condescending tone as he said the reporter’s name as a power play to imply superiority and his exasperation with the line of questioning.
Tone conveys emotions, emphasizes important points, and keeps listeners engaged.
Changing the tone of a word or sentence can change the meaning significantly.
The examples above illustrate the importance of tone. The tone you use will keep people engaged or cause their minds to wander. Your tone will convey your emotion and elicit emotions in others. When you need to influence, be sure to consider how your tone can help you achieve your purpose. It may even be helpful to rehearse out loud so you can hear your tone and change it if needed. Also consider whether you can effectively convey your intended tone in an email or text, or if you should make a call so your tone and its intended message comes through clearly.
Pay attention to the impact of tone as you observe conversations or watch interviews. Like an actor rehearsing lines, imagine how the conversation would change if the same words were conveyed in a different tone. Once you’ve observed the impact with others, pay attention to how your tone impacts a conversation and, ultimately, your ability to influence.