The 7 types of vocal tone that managers need to crack

A massive part of communication is vocal tone.

In fact, in this 2002 research, surgeons’ who used the wrong tone of voice were more likely to be sued:  Surgeons’ tone of voice: a clue to malpractice history – PubMed (nih.gov)

So, if you’ve been accused of sounding aggressive or uncaring, you’ll know how frustrating it is if that really wasn’t your intention.

That happened to me when I was working at a school years ago.  I had just balled over to the receptionist from a member of staff with whom I’d had a verbal skirmish and I was marched off the premises.

Crap job anyway so they could kiss my ass.  Funny though, cos I thought I was being polite to the receptionist but apparently she was getting undercurrents of “f*ck you”.  Classic case of tonal leakage where the emotional remnants of a previous conversation leave their mark in the vocal tone you use for the next one.

Use the wrong tone and a job can go under or a whole relationship can hit the rocks.

Here are 7 different types of vocal tone to which you need to switch if you want to get your message across with the right intention:

1. Conversational  – this is light and chatty.  The tone where you may be discussing personal interests.  There may be more vocal modulation as you express interest and surprise or share an anecdote.

2. Authoritative – this is reserved for situations such as imparting researched data and facts.  Decisive gestures and a lack of self grooming motions such as hair stroking are key to conveying this tone.  Even if your listeners can’t see you, it’ll come through the voice.

3. Conciliatory – maybe there’s been a mix up that may have inconvenienced someone and you feel responsible.  In this case a more conciliatory tone – or a sympathetic one – shows understanding.

4. Decisive – this would convey a commitment to a course of action.  Body language can often steer the voice so using downward hand or head actions, make the voice inflect downwards at the end of a phrase.  This can give the vocal tone an air of finality.

5. Motivational – in telling stories that drive action driving action or inspiring with the confidence to make progress, a resolute but upbeat tone can drive motivation.  When being motivational opening the body, or standing when you’re on a call or maybe towards your audience gears the voice to a more inspirational delivery.

6. Curious – when wanting to explore issues or situations, an enquiring tone will help others in opening up to share with you.  Sometimes curiosity can make the other person defensive, as if you’re questioning their decisions.  However, to sound as if you’re genuinely interested, keep the body open and tilt your head slightly to the side.  Oh, and don’t use ‘WHY?’   That’ll more likely have you misunderstood even more.  Instead use this:  “How did that decision come about?”

7. Mischievous tone – I have a client that used this really well when I was training him along with his team during lockdown.  He’d had a range of hats next to him and suddenly put it on, gently coaxing others to out-hat him.  I found a wig, someone else grabbed another hat and soon the atmosphere lightened.  This was especially important as he was learning along with a team that would have felt vulnerable anyway.

You don’t need to be conscious of your tone all the time but there are times when an interaction is so tricky that if you’re not aware of your tone it can threaten your relationship or, even, your job.

Your Action:

1. Putting on voices isn’t necessarily the answer to adapting tone. A mindset shift may be what you need. Watch this video clip here from 2 min to 4.26 mindset.

2. When managing others, it’s helpful to be able to persona shift .  By taking on a specific role, that persona will more likely come through your vocal tone.

3. Change your body language.  In the examples above, I’ve illustrated how a shift in your body language – a head tilt, downward gestures – can move the vocal tone.  Voice over actors do this all the time.  You may not be able to see them but they’re moving to embody physical tone.

4. Need to change gear after a particularly frustrating conversation?  Music is an instant mood changer.  I’ve been compiling a Spotify Playlist for Good Mood Music.  A good tune, a few deep breaths, a walk around the block – any of that – can help avoid tonal leakage, where you have the shadow of an interaction spilling into your next one and end up being marched off the premises, as I did (see above).

Want to learn more about how to communicate up, down and sideways?  I’m launching a new course called ‘Communication on Crack’ and am looking for 15 people to be part of the Pilot Group.   If you’re interested, I’ll send you all the details.  Contact me at frankie@frankiekemp.com.  I’ll fill you in on the particulars and might even send you an early order link.

(I’m doing this on a a first-come, first served basis)

Image by Thomas Wolter from Pixabay

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