communication, personal relationships, business relationships, workplace morale

Changing the “Tone” of Communication at Work and Home


“Don’t you use that tone with me!” Chances are you’ve either heard it from a parent or said it to a teen. Tone carries attitude, meaning, and muscle.

Is most communication positive or negative where you work? Do people feel encouraged and upbeat—or discouraged and disengaged? Is praise free-flowing or rare? Do people value harmony over direct feedback—or struggle with straight-talk? Do people congregate in clumps or would you say the place encourages independent action and thought?

Different questions at home for the same purpose: Do you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells? Is somebody always getting their feelings hurt? Is the tone kind or demeaning in conversations?

The answers to these questions constitute the “tone” of your communication at work and home. And the tone of your communication ultimately trickles down to trust, loyalty, and long-term commitment.

How to Change the Tone … So You Can Change the Relationship and Results

Focus on What’s Right Rather Than What’s Wrong

With young children, parents start with the applause. “Good job!” follows first attempts and failed attempts as the child learns to do things well. But somewhere along the way, those kudos and the focus turns far more negative—to improving this and correcting that. So by the time, we enter the workplace, almost all attention is focused on what we need to do to improve, grow, develop, or expand our talents.

The mindset and workplace culture become “never good enough,” depending on how often the “fix it” mantra is repeated.

Break Up the Herd Mentality

Many studies report the natural tendency for people to seek out others like themselves: others who have the same interests, who have the same skills, who have grown up in the same geographic area. If nothing else in common, we tend to link up with people whose last name starts with the same letter. (Really!)

In families, siblings closest in age tend to remain closest emotionally. At work, those who experience a traumatic event together tend to feel closer than other coworkers.

Likewise, if the department manager’s communication tends to be negative, the entire group tends to adopt that mindset and communicate from a negative perspective.

Recognize and Call Out Passive/Aggressive Behavior

Many people fear confrontation. So rather than be direct in a meeting or conversation to give their honest opinion in a straightforward way, they strive to maintain harmony at all cost, saying only what they think others want to hear.

But then they act—or don’t act—in ways that sabotage their “agreeable” words.

For example:  In a meeting, Jake says, “Sure, if the group thinks we should send the RFP to Universal, Inc. along with the other suppliers, I’ll add their name to the bidder list and mail it out to all potential contractors on Friday.” Two weeks later, someone notices that Universal is not on the bidders list. Kirsten asks Jake why. His response: “I never could locate their address.”

Unless an organization identifies such behavior—and holds people responsible for it—passive-aggressive actors will continue to control and set the tone of dishonest communication.

Stop Searching for Ulterior Motives

Even where there’s a culture of positive encouragement, some people listen with filters. Their reaction: What’s their motive? Why are they doing this or saying that? Are they expecting me to reciprocate?

If listeners tend to tune out and refuse to “hear” encouraging, positive feedback, call it to their attention. Above all, be sure the encouragement is just that—praise not meant to produce better work or lead to additional work.

Give praise and encouragement when and where it’s due. Then stand down.

Instill Trust and Drop the “Prove It” Protective Shield

Still other people see the entire world through skeptical eyes. Just as they protect their PC from malware and viruses, they aim to protect themselves from being “taken” by some con artist gushing with good words, but no back-up deliverables.

They expect you to prove yourself first. As if waiting for an annual feedback session, they take a wait-and-see approach with everything you say and do.

If you suspect that you fall into this category, consider instilling a little more trust. Take people at face value until they prove untrustworthy. You’ll find it easier to be positive with them and to encourage their work.

If you’ve ever been the victim of poor customer service, then you know the tone of communication matters a great deal. Adopt an encouraging tone in your communication and you’ll see a staggering decrease in conflict and increase in commitment.

Improve your communication skills both at work and home in other ways with Communicate with Confidence: How to Say it Right the First Time and Every Time. Find it at your preferred book seller.


Communicate with Confidence

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