It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
We’ve all heard this quote and been in situations where it convicted or challenged us more so. In fact, you can probably recall the last time you could’ve said something differently. It happens so frequently to each of us, we can easily remember it.
According to research and just about every TED Talk about communication, your body language accounts for 55% of the impact you have on your audience. There’s a lot more to your words than you see. If you had a mirror for every time you communicated anything, you would be more self-aware of your gestures and body movements. As the well-known business consultant and educator, Peter Drucker, said, the most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. And that leads me to my next point.
Your tone, which includes your inflection and volume, takes up 38% of your impact. This leaves a whopping 7% for your words. You can master your body language and use all the beautiful words, but if your tone is off, then your intended message might not come across the way you want it. Along with a mirror, imagine a voice recorder playing back everything you just said. The tone of your voice can speak louder than your words.
These percentages might change based on further research and study, but regardless, they help us learn to communicate better now. In the rest of this post, I want to focus on the tone of voice.
Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.
The first time I heard this phrase was in middle school. My teacher (bless his heart for dealing with us) would often say it to loosen up the mood. Our pre-teen body languages communicated enough to represent the tones of our voices, especially when we didn’t have the words to say. But even in our young minds, our inner narrative was going. And when you tried to say something, it always seemed to come out wrong and not at all how you imagined it.
That’s still the case with us today. You have an inner narrative, also known as an internal monologue or self-talk, which doesn’t necessarily sound like your own voice. Sometimes, it’s more familiar than your vocal sound, depending on how much you talk or think. But the case still stands, because the way we say things in our mind don’t always sound the same through our voice.
I find this to be true as I record and edit my audio blogs. There’s a vast difference from the way I write, record, and then as I listen back to these podcasts. I almost don’t recognize myself in the way I come across audibly, which is alarming as a writer but motivating to get better.
Timely enough, I took a communications course to get better in my work-environment. It was extremely helpful to learn that listening is an essential ingredient to communicate effectively. It’s also important to pause between sentences and… certain words, to articulate clearly and even slooowly, and to consider another’s communication style and preference to help you be more successful in conversations.
Listening goes both ways. Since it’s essential in communicating, we must be cognizant of how we sound to our audience as well. The instructor also said, “communication is what they think you meant,” and for me, this captured the impact your tone can have.
How you say things matter a lot. Communication is a lifelong skill we all need to work on consistently. Even the best speakers practice, study, and refine their vocal deliveries. If 93% of our communication is nonverbal, it might be in our best interest to consider that mirror and voice recorder.
Thankfully, there are alternative methods we can put into practice, but before I list those, I wanted to share what sparked this blog post:
I’m a very task-oriented person and like to get things done, especially in the work environment. But I’m also a relational person. My challenge is to balance both being task-oriented and people-oriented simultaneously. When I have stuff to get done, I can come across very dismissive and bossy. But when I spend time with people, I clear my task plate and forget about it, and come across intentional and kind. Someone brought this to my attention and suggested practicing more self-awareness, particularly with my tone.
I most likely come across in those ways because of how I present myself and say things. It has nothing to do with the words, but more so my demeanor and intentions. As I pondered on this, it felt as though God lined up situation after situation where I got challenged about the tone of my voice. I realized quickly that it doesn’t reflect my inner narrative very much. How I envision the sound in my head doesn’t come out the same way. And this led me to think of Proverbs 18:20-21:
From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Every tone of voice there is some sort of intention. However surface level those intentions might be, the root stems to either death or life. We must consider the 93% and be mindful of how we say things. When we take more time to consider the way we look and sound, and become more self-aware, we will have a much more positive impact.
If anything, I’m preaching to myself. Let’s speak LIFE and improve HOW we say it:
- Listen and observe your audience during conversation. More listening, less talking.
- Pause between sentences and certain words to build anticipation, interest, and self-awareness.
- Consider and acknowledge your audience’s preferred style of communication if you can.
- Seek to understand, not to respond (Stephen Covey)
- Build the relationship–make this your motive!
- Find a quote or verse that will help remind you to focus more on how to speak, not what to speak.
Let’s keep the list going: what are other ways we can improve how we say things?
What are some experiences or lessons you learned?
I would also LOVE to get your feedback on how my tone sounded in this post, as well as my audio blog episode [when it’s out].
Your post came across as helpful and informative. Thank you. I struggle with a bit of social anxiety, especially in one-on-one encounters—speaking to someone in a customer service situation. One thought to add is that sometimes body language can be miss read. For instance, I work with autistic children who do not make eye contact easily. However, this does not mean they are being unsociable or hiding something.
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Thank you, David! And these are good points you’ve added, it’s important to be mindful and empathetic 👍🏼
Great thoughts, Tanya! Your tone was wonderful – very straightforward and gentle! (I love that quote; “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice!” XD) Its good to be reminded again of how important body language is. It’s absolutely 100% better to speak the truth in love (even if it causes conflict) than to avoid an issue in a dismissive or incautious tone. I really appreciate this post! 😄
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Thank you, Makayla! I appreciate your comment and agree with you, speaking truth in love helps our tone also!
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