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 a marketing consultant and copywriter based in Austin, Texas. When she isn't helping clients tell their stories, she reads, writes poetry, draws, and takes kickboxing classes.

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Hi your constitution is Pitta as accordance to Ayurveda. Your intentions are to the point, rather than beating around the bush. This is an interesting article.


This was a good post that everyoneshould read. I think that many times that feelings are hurt, it isbecause the receiver of the message is predisposed to interpreting themissive as negative. There are several people I interact with on Twitterwho will go to great lengths to see the slight in any comment. I trynot to communicate with them, but if I feel I must, I am extra careful.

When I intend to offend, it is usually obvious, because I will unleash atorrent of vitriol that I hope drives the person to...well...a long,slow, tortured, painful death. I want to crush their very being.  Bottomline, don't cast aspersion about bacon, lest you went to feel my wrath.

Latest blog post: ROI of Hugs, Cats and Wine


ABSOLUTELY!   :-)     

I find that social media, especially blog post replies, can be misunderstood. What I mean to say is that I write quickly, in the spirit of the moment and fail to write carefully and self edit. 


Hey Erin, personally I try not to over think things. I am guilty of that often so I have to consciously work at it. Tone to me is in speaking. When I write a response to someone I usually try to throw in some humour if I know the person. I spend a lot of time writing email correspondence during the course of a regular day and have found certain words do elicit responses that you can expect. That's why I use them.

Your point about reaction is well taken but you also have to remember that you cannot anticipate someone's intent when you are not in front of them and able to read non-verbal cues. You can't help how you feel about something thought and there's nothing wrong with being a sensitive person. Th simple fact that you are aware of the effect your words have on someone is admirable.

Cheers miss!


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