How’s Your Tone of Voice?

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How's your tone?My younger brother rarely catches my tone of voice. More often than not, he takes offense with something I say because he misinterprets how I say or mean it. I then have to explain my intention. Because of that, I’ve learned to watch my tone of voice when I text with him or comment on his Facebook status. I would prefer not to fight with him 257 days out of the year.

The same things happens with emails and blog posts. The tone with which either was written is missed by the recipient or audience. People are offended or get their feelings hurt. Explanations and apologies then have to be made.

Tone of voice is a hard thing to manage. I don’t always succeed in expressing my tone, as evidenced by my brother’s reaction. I try to manage it in one of three ways: I consider word choice, I consider the intended recipient, and I consider how I would feel if I were on the receiving end of my words.

Word choice

Tone often is dependent upon the words used. “Expect” and “need” may be similar words, but they have different connotations. “I expect you to complete this project by the end of the day” is interpreted differently than “I need you to complete this project by the end of the day.” The first is somewhat demanding; the second is more courteous. The first wording may be necessary in some cases, but it shouldn’t be used in every instance. The word is dependent upon the recipient.

Intended recipient

Tone is dependent upon the recipient. For instance, the tone I use when I’m applying for a job or pitching an article to an organization is different from the tone I use when I email a friend. My emails with friends are chatty. They’re lengthy. They have asides within asides. They tend to make some of my friends – the ones who appreciate such a tone – laugh. The ones who don’t appreciate that tone or style don’t receive that sort of email. I’m brief. I may write something funny, but I don’t write a short story in the body of the email.

Potential reaction

I try to think about how my words will affect another person. I don’t always succeed in that consideration, but I do make the attempt. My consideration is both a part of my personal and professional life. I try to write to people in the same way that I would want them to write to me. An example? A few weeks ago, I asked for clarification about an acronym. It wasn’t one with which I was familiar, and, rather than playing the guessing game, I asked what it meant. The person replied by writing out the acronym, then bolding the first letter of each word in the acronym. To me, the bold lettering was excessive. It hurt a little. I felt as though I were being told I was dumb for not knowing the definition of the acronym. I hate being made to feel that way, so I’m conscious of it when I respond to other people’s questions.

How’s your tone? Has it ever been misinterpreted? Would you like to talk about tone of voice? If so, let’s chat.

Image: OurWorld2.0 (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

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Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is Senior Director at Tenacity5 Media and founder of Write Right. She's a writer, editor, poet, and artist. You can find her on .

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