Tone Matters

Currently, my biggest struggle with tone of voice manifests through my youngest son. While my oldest son and my husband tend to focus more on words said and to give less credence to tone and body language than most people, my youngest soaks in my tone and often emulates it and my body language when talking to others.

My youngest son replaying my tone and body language feels strange but has increased my awareness of the impact of my tone of voice. This has led me to realize how much tone of voice not only impacts relationships but how it reflects the atmosphere that exists in the inner self.tone 2

The style or manner in which words are said make up a person’s tone of voice. Tone involves the delivery of words by expressing emotions and opinions. Tone determines perception also, such as whether an individual appears weak, confident, boring, etc..

Research reveals the significant impact of tone of voice by showing that 90% of our communication comes through nonverbal cues, including tone of voice. That means that the actual words said have only a 10% impact on our communication.

Not only is tone a powerful element in communication, it also presents an effective gauge of a person’s inner atmosphere. When we’re tired, frustrated, overwhelmed or have some other powerful emotion flowing through us, our tone often reveals that inner state. In fact, concealing that emotion usually becomes impossible for most people. And the better someone knows you, the harder hiding emotions in our tone becomes.

Tone 1

When I hear my boys talking (bickering) with each other, I’ll often remind one or both to “Watch your tone.” I do this because I know that a change in tone often results in a change in attitude of all parties involved. In fact, let’s go so far as to say that the words said mean little to nothing when the tone says something else or something more powerful.

With the significant impact of tone of voice in the forefront of our thoughts, consider the following truths about how we say what we say and how their application can change our relationships as well as the atmosphere of the inner self.

  1. Gentle words can disarm anger, resentment and vengeance. (Proverbs 15:1)
  2. Gentle words have healing powers. (Proverbs 15:4)
  3. A mind set on things above comes through in our attitude, which is reflected in our tone of voice. (Colossians 3:1-10)
  4. Tone that reflects truth promotes healthy communication, but tone driven by emotions leads to communication breakdown.
  5. Tone often says more about the speaker than it does about the situation or the receiver.

Sarcasm comes naturally for me, but it only lessens as I refuse to give it a regular voice in the world. The journey to this particular victory lives as a constant reminder of the power of tone of voice. Because sarcasm failed to encourage and thus went against God’s intention for my relationships, I am motivated to keep a tight reign on not just the words I say but how I say them as well.

Painful lessons regarding my tone of voice led me to realize that how I say something certainly impacts others, but at the root it really reveals what’s going on in my heart. So when I use a wrong tone, I first correct it if possible and then apologize for it when necessary. I also seek to pinpoint what’s going on within myself that led to a tone that was not only less than encouraging but that was actually only my emotions out of control.

When I change my tone, my inner attitude changes, and my emotions level out. I can also see the same happening with whomever I am communicating with at the time. In that, I witness the truth that words truly can heal or destroy (Proverbs 12:18) largely through the tone in which they are said.

DISCUSSION: What impact has tone of voice had in your communication?

For more details on this topic, check out the posts Thinking on Words and Words Matter.

Be determined. Pursue simplicity. Find balance. Be curious. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Age gracefully. Make the most of every opportunity.


mark allman
January 16, 2014 at 9:02 am

The spoken word is powerful and can be used in such a positive manner or in a powerfully negative way. So much is conveyed through the listening of the words someone's speaks. Often the words are forgotten but the manner they were said stays in the heart long after. I think we have to discipline ourselves to not speak if we can not do so in a manner that builds up; that encourages; that extends love; and coveys an openness for response. We also can help someone who is upset or harsh by our response to them; not in kind but in kindness.

I have always thought as well that a whisper garners more attention than a shout.

    January 16, 2014 at 9:13 am

    So true, Mark, the spoken word truly is powerful not just in content but in tone and in limiting it. We can change a person's life simply by controlling our flow and tone of the words we use. In upcoming posts, we'll get at this idea of self discipline and taming the tongue, which you touch on here. Showing kindness to others provides a tremendous motivation to control our words, especially the more a relationship means to us. Great additions, as usual my friend.

January 16, 2014 at 11:17 am

You hit the nail on the head Kari. I know body language plays a big part but they hear my tone first. It is like saying "I love you" in an intimate voice vs an angry voice. Big big difference. Good job here. The trouble is when your son picks up yours and emulates it, it is sometimes an ugly mirror (not that I've ever had to look into one). lol
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    January 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Definitely an ugly mirror for me at times. BUT, it's a mirror I need. Otherwise, I struggle even being aware of it. God knew what He was doing. Meets our needs for certain.

January 16, 2014 at 11:22 am

I can't you how often my mother used to say to this highly dramatic teen, "It's not what you said. It's now you said it." It's one of the reasons I think our tendency towards texting and email as our favored forms of communication causes occasional unnecessary problems. Printed words can easily be misinterpreted to mean something unintended.

Our tone of voice speaks volumes. I also think the way we listen is huge. You always give me something valuable to ponder. Thanks Kari!
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    January 16, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Electronic communication definitely causes problems with communication at times, especially when we read in intentions and tone. We need to be aware of the relationship in order to properly communication via email and text. Definitely need caution, which is severely lacking these days. The way (and IF) we listen is definitely huge. I am working on being a better listener. If nothing else, I feel better about myself when I am a better listener, that's for sure. And, I know it honors God.

January 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm

AS I read this I kept thinking of the scripture about how out of the abundance of the heart our mouth speaks.

I also thought about my toddler. We encourage him to apologize when needed. But he hasn't learned actual remorse. Often his "sorry" sounds so fake it's hard to not laugh.
Tone really does matter.

    January 16, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    That scripture is definitely coming up in my detailed study on how we use our words. When my oldest was a toddler, boy did I notice the impact of tone of voice. Funny that we notice it's impact with dogs too, isn't it? How we say something sure seems to hold a lot more weight for credibility than what we say.

January 16, 2014 at 1:23 pm

It's often scary how carefully my kids watch me and listen to my tone! They can mimic me like no one else and every once in awhile I hear something negative come out of their mouth and to my shock I realize they picked it up from me! Thanks for the great reminder to watch my tone and make sure it is inline with truth and grace.
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    January 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Kids can truly be iron that sharpen us if we are open to God leading us that way as we raise them. Sure, it's about teaching them to be Godly adults, but it's also about us learning to be Godly adults too! Your comment reminded me of the movie A Christmas Story where Ralphie, during his narration, reveals his dad as the source of his foul language but ends up ratting out his friend instead. Essentially, his parents would probably not have received the truth. We need to be sure we are teachable and able to receive it.

January 16, 2014 at 2:07 pm

My wife often reminds me of my tone and attitude late at night. When I am tired, I am not in the mood to talk. I've worked on my struggle with my tone, but not the point where I have overcome my issue completely. I believe having a child is going to further test my patience when I just want to be alone with my thoughts. My tone in these times demonstrates the selfishness that remains inside of me and the fact that I'm a work in progress.
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    January 16, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Tone definitely indicates what's going on inside a person, that I know for certain. Yes, having a child will challenge this in you even more. Taking care of yourself, while immensely difficult with a child, is essential not just for your physical health but also for your mental health and ultimately the mental development of your child as well. You'll be fine, Chris, simply because you have awareness of this already.

You Know Me :-)
January 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Tone is a big sturggle in our household. With an almost 12 year old and a determined 6 year old following in his footsteps it is a constant reminder that "it is not what you said but how you said it." It also is a constant reminder to me as well. My tone does not always come off as approriate and can be frustrating to those around me. I have learned over the last few years if I take a moment and I breathe than speak it will come out so much nicer. I have also learned through my almost 3 year old that she immitates everything and I mean everything. It is amazing that you can look at your child and know your values. If you child is doing something questionable than you need to look for the source of that. I grew up with tone all the time. It hurt many of the relationship in my life. When I became an adult the tone got worse and the relationships that were slowly fadded especially in family. It is a struggle to not go to a family event and think about the times that I have said something and regretted it. It doesn't matter how many times you apologize and forgive words hurt and some people just don't let it go. Thank you for sharing.

    January 16, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    You can't do anything about the past except learn from it and move one. You don't control another's forgiveness either, only your own. Do what you know is right now, including using a positive & encouraging tone, and know that God forgave you, and you need to forgive yourself too. You can't make others change their tone, but you can adjust yours. Theirs often will change when you do. Never give up!

January 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm

With kids aged 5 and 3, tone is certainly something I've seen that's crucial. They pick up so well on subtle differences, and it can really impact them. Seeing Mom or Dad get frustrated makes them nervous and edgy – and they eventually pick up the habits themselves. Also, they crave affirmation so much. A genuinely sweet and enthusiastic answer just lights them up.
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    January 27, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Amazing to think how much you are modeling for them just through the tone of your voice. Our impact on our kids, especially at that young age, is so detailed, isn't it? Plus, seeing them light up is reward enough to keep the tone positive, that's for certain. Still applies with my boys at age 13 & 15.

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