A meets B for lunch.
A says to B: "You look worried."
B: "I am."
A: "What’s the reason?"
B: "My boss walked into my work and said: 'You are doing a good job.'"
A: "That sounds positive."
B: "The words were, but the tone was not. I am worried."
Citizen: "This sounds a lot like an interrogation."
Police: "I do not mean it to sound this way. Maybe it is my voice tone?"
- “Post-Mortem” Netflix Movie
Actor Justin Long referencing Patrick McDuffy stated on the Today Show: "He did not say it like that, but that is how I heard it."
Husband: "I need to ask you something."
Wife: "When you get that tone, I know to watch out."
- "If I Hadn’t Met You" Netflix Movie
Teacher to Student: "I don’t appreciate your tone of voice."
- "Sex Education" Netflix Show
"What’s with the tone of voice?" Actor Bobby Cannavale shouts to Melissa McCarthy in Hulu’s "9 Perfect Strangers."
*** Kati Couric moved to Atlanta and visited a voice coach to learn how to speak with a deeper tenor.
- Going There book, 2021.
*** Howard Stern pokes fun of the vocal tone pattern called “vocal fry” aka “the croaking thing” which he calls an epidemic. He also pokes fun at “little girl voices.”
Merriam Webster defines tone of voice as the way a person is speaking to someone.
Research clearly indicates that a large part, possibly 37%, of communication meaning comes from “tone of voice.” This means that negotiators, mediators, executive coaches, etc. need to pay special attention to voice tone. This attention may make them more persuasive or more neutral.
The goal is to keep the listener engaged. The voice is a powerful tool. For example, one can say "excuse me" and mean sarcasm, love, anger, humor, politeness, or simply “get out of my way.”
The voice and voice tone is personal. The ideal voice exudes confidence, power, problem solving, and a willingness to assist.
Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication model says that 7% of the meaning of feelings and attitudes takes place through the words we use in spoken communications, while 38% takes place through tone and voice and the remaining 55% of communication of these factors take place through the body language we use (specifically our facial expressions).
Albert Mehrabian, born in 1939 to an Armenian family living in Iran, is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Although he originally trained as an engineer, he is best known for his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages.
Mehrabian reminds folks that his formula focused on emotions and feelings. Nonetheless, it is a great reminder the people need to listen to the words but also to the tone. They often send mixed signals.
Speed of Voice
According to Cleveland State University research Richard M Perloff:
Voice speed is cataloged as “non-content linguistic cues.” Fast speed talkers are perceived as more:
-Kinder and nicer.
Fast talkers enhance their communication and enhance their credibility and message acceptance.
Slow talking is a persuasion liability. Slow talkers are perceived as less fluent and active.
Of course, this is complex and other factors include the listener’s own speed rate. If the listener is a fast talker then they usually prefer to deal with similar styles. This may fall under the category of mimicry.
There is some evidence that slow talking may be best if the subject matter is intimate such as some money issues or health issues.
Finally, fast talking may be more persuasive when the other parties are not high involved in the process. (Note the 12 Laws of Persuasion: One is the Law of Involvement meaning that usually the more involved the listener is, the more likely they are persuaded.)
Most people think three times as fast as they can speak. Speaking faster keeps people’s attention. Most people speak at a rate of 120 to 170 words per minute. Speaking faster conveys enthusiasm and excitement. Speaking slower conveys being contemplative.
In the United States culture, a lower pitch is considered to be more credible and thoughtful. This low voice pitch exudes authority. Some folks even drink hot herbal tea that tends to lower the pitch a bit.
As part of the voice pitch, effective problem solvers include variety in their pitch tone, up and down, so their presentation is not boring.
-Judicial Hearing: This was a virtual judicial hearing. One side was very respectful and evidence-based. The other side was emotional, frivolous, presenting irrelevant and not previously submitted videos. The judge’s tone of voice to the first person was respectful. The judge’s tone of voice to the other party took on that of a middle school teacher. The tone was scolding and derisive, demanding evidence, not feelings. The tone of voice lost neutrality.
Comment: It is clear that the judge’s tone can impact the proceedings, including the jury. They can reveal their prejudices by being patient with some and abrupt with others or being charming to some or intimidating to others.
Two law students of The George Washington University School of Law offers this on voice tone:
I think the most persuasive communication is spoken with a clear tone, well supported by your breath and good posture, and combined with appropriate modulation (for example speaking more quietly when you want someone to lean in or taking pauses to let what you've said sink in).
I agree that a lower voice can portray confidence so long as it is not overdone. Further, I believe that strategic pauses when speaking can be very effective. I think a good example of this can be seen in President Obama's speeches. I recently heard one from a rally he was at in Virginia, and he makes a great point of allowing for his main points to sink in with the audience by taking prolonged pauses.
According to Renee Grant-Williams:
The people we deal with in life come to know us by the three ways in which we present ourselves:
- How we look
- What we say
- How we say it
People want to capture and hold the attention of other people in most life situations. People want people to listen to them, remember it, be persuaded by it and sometimes, act on it.
Communication is power.
“Speaking is much like singing a song that hasn’t been written yet.”
People need to be flexible and improvise.
The Behavior of Successful Persuaders, Neil Rackham, Huthwaite Research Group Limited, Negotiation, Roy Lewicki
The Dynamics of Persuasion “Message Effects,” by Richard M. Perloff, Cleveland State University.
The Art of Creativity: A Vital Skill, Author John Maxwell
Voice Power, Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade and Command Attention, Renee Grant-Williams.