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3 Vocal Tones to Avoid in the Workplace

Your tone of voice says a lot.  It indicates your friendliness, confidence, and how authentic you are.  People will choose whether they want to do business with you based on the way you sound.  There are both positive, uplifting tones that we can feel encouraged by and there are other tones of voice that can demoralize and demotivate.  Sometimes, people don’t recognize that their vocal tone is so disheartening.  Even if they do, they aren’t sure what it is about their tone that makes them sound that way.  Below are three vocal tones that should be avoided in the workplace and an explanation of what is happening through speech, language and voice characteristics. 

Condescending

This tone of voice will surely create a lot of animosity with any audience.

The speech, language, and voice characteristics can be characterized as using a fast rate, a flat vocal pitch and words/vocabulary that suggests superiority…”I already told you this…” The words used are frequently negative (didn’t, don’t) and blaming. There may be very few opportunities to defend because the person being condescending will also interrupt the speaker and deny wrongdoing.

The best solution to eliminate this behavior is to begin by listening more and repeating back what you hear. This will buy time to be objective and less reactive.  And will demonstrate a willingness to listen and be open.

Sarcasm

This tone of voice will surely create confusion to the listener unless the listener knows you well. The listener will wonder if the speaker is being truthful or joking.  This confusion will create suspicion and take away from credibility. This type of communication keeps people guessing and questioning the intent of the speaker.

The characteristics of a sarcasm tone include a slow pace that stretches the vowels of the words.  For example, think of the “right” or ‘Yeah, right.”  In order to sound sarcastic, you lengthen the vowel (so you slow down the rate) and say it pretty flat in pitch.  Facial expression will also be somewhat expressionless making it harder for the listener to detect truth.

To eliminate sarcasm, experiment with saying various words and phrases in a friendly tone (lots of vocal variety).

Anger

This tone of voice will surely surprise and potentially scare when directed at someone.  It will also demonstrate a lack of control on the speaker’s part. Being out-of-control signals a weakness (although feeling angry at times is not a weakness, of course).

The characteristics of anger include an elevated loudness level, flat pitch and a distinctive steady rhythm of syllables.  Words that are more important in a sentence will be exaggerated in length and loudness.  (“I did NOT tell you to do that!”)

Often the vocabulary of an angry person is littered with swear words, put downs, and absolutes (Always, every, never, etc.)

Channeling anger towards an action rather than a person will be much more productive and minimize defensive responses from the listener when a frustrating situation arises.

The ability to model the behavior we wish others to have is a terrific tool for managing the communication of others. I recently observed a conversation between an HR specialist and a disgruntled employee who was obviously irritated with his manager.  The employee was stating his grievance to HR.  He was very direct in his words and was talking very fast.  His pitch and loudness level had also increased.  Even as he became more and more upset describing the situation, the HR person stayed incredibly calm.  His tone was slow and his pitch was varied.  The words he used were positive and encouraging to allow the disgruntled employee to continue. He had a tone of empathy.  Once the employee realized he was being listened to, his tone began to change as well.

What other vocal tones have you experienced that you feel should be avoided in the workplace?

 

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About the Author Lynda Stucky

Lynda Stucky coaches mid-senior level executives on using their speech and voice effectively to establish credibility, position themselves within their company, and enhance their reputation as a topic authority. She provides training through one-on-one coaching and online courses to reduce foreign accents, “redd-up” regional accents, and teach speech and voice branding for image control. She is President of ClearlySpeaking, and is a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist. She is the author of "Voice Branding for Executives: How to Align Your Speech, Language, and Voice Skills with Your Professional Goals." Her background in speech pathology offers unique skills for dealing with professional communication skills in the corporate world. She believes communication skills should not hold anyone back from achieving personal and professional goals.

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