How to speak so others want to listen. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice, it smells a funny colour.
It’s a popular saying from way back, and it carries a lot more meaning than at first appears. “That tone of voice” implies a critical note, and one that causes offence. Equally, you can convey much more than the words you use, through the way you speak.
In the words of the song, “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it.”
The way you use your voice can make you persuasive and plausible, or it can lose you business. It can inspire people to follow you or it can distance them from you. Unfortunately, too many people cause upsets without realising it, just through their tone of voice.
Does it matter? Only if you want people to like you.
Can you do anything about your voice? Almost certainly. It depends on two things: your mental attitude and certain physical changes. I’ll come to those in a moment, but first let’s consider some typical situations in which the tone of voice has played a major role.
I was running a training session in which I introduced the idea of the Elevator Speech. It’s something I do very frequently, and I usually do it the same way. I start by asking all the delegates present “What do you do?” and inevitably they give me their job titles. I then jokingly say, “That’s so BORING!” and they all laugh. Not this last time, though.
There must have been something on my mind as I said it, and it upset the people there. Later they said I had been rude. Whatever had been on my mind, it changed my tone of voice. Everything else was exactly as it has always been – or so I thought. But that slight, almost imperceptible change in my tone, made it sound as though I was being rude instead of funny.
Now consider the way you sound on the phone.
A customer calls and asks a question. You are a bit busy, but you want to be helpful, so you give what you consider to be an efficient answer, to the point and without wasting the caller’s time. You think you’ve done a good job. The caller, on the other hand, may go away thinking you have been rather offhand, possibly even rude.
If you have a tape recorder, use it to understand the effect of your tone of voice. Record yourself speaking on the phone to different people – a supplier, a customer, a friend, a family member. Record yourself asking for help, and record yourself giving information.
Is there a difference?
The principal difference in attitude is this: when you are asking for help, you are the supplicant, the other person is the dominant. When you are giving information, the roles are reversed. The sales person is the supplicant, the client is the dominant. As supplicant we use a more appealing tone of voice.
Not everyone in a dominant role will use a less attractive voice, but the temptation is there. Check out your own voice and notice if you detect a difference.
So what can you do to make your own voice sound more attractive? Here are a few simple techniques:
- Keep a mirror on your desk to check if you are smiling when speaking – until it becomes a natural thing to do.
- Practise speaking lower than usual, especially if your voice is high pitched.
- Get feedback from trusted friends on the sound of your voice. Change what they don’t like.
- Sit up straight. Posture affects the voice.
- Drink lots of water, especially if you do a lot of talking on the phone.
- Practise proper breathing from the diaphragm.
- Put a note on your desk that reads: “Hello old friend!” to remind you to speak to everyone as you would to an old friend you haven’t seen for ages. In fact, try to speak to everyone as you would to someone you really like.
Be friendly, show everyone respect and develop a mellifluous sounding voice. It’s an unbeatable combination.