Interpersonal Edge: Tone and gesture are often more truthful than words
Sunday, September 4, 2016

By Dr. Dareen Skube

Tribune Content Agency

  Q. My boss just did my review and told me I am monotone in my conversations at work. Apparently people read me as uninterested and disengaged. How important is tone of voice, and why does it matter what my tone is? Don't people pay attention to my words?

  A. No, words matter very little to the total meaning in your conversations. It turns out about 80 percent of the meaning we express is conveyed by body language and tone of voice. Tone conveys the music of our emotions. Are we mad, sad, nervous or happy? People tune in closely to what your tone indicates about your feelings.

  If the words and tone are in conflict, people will automatically believe tone of voice before they believe body language. If you say, "I'm not angry," but you sound mad, your words will be disregarded.

  Weirdly, our body language and tone tend to reveal the truth we may want to hide. Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, observed: "He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore."

  When you observe people, always trust what you hear and see in your coworker. Words can easily lie, but the body and tone of voice do not.

  People are frequently unconscious of how they really feel about nearly everything. Most people don't walk around intending to mislead us or lie. The reality is they don't know themselves very well. Our coworkers' words often express what they want to believe. Our words convey only the part of ourselves that is in line with what we like about ourselves.

  Unattractive traits such as jealousy, insecurity or anger come through in tone of voice and body language because, as Freud observed, these feelings leak out through our "fingertips." If you directly point out the conflict between a coworkers' words and tone of voice, you'll be in for a fight. People don't like you to see parts of themselves they themselves are hiding from.

  Instead of confronting coworkers directly, simply trust the information contained in their tone and body language. When you make decisions ignoring people's words alone, you will get better results.

  Also realize that people are making these same decisions based on your tone and body language. If you are not naturally expressive, practice with a friend and video or a tape recorder so you can hear what others hear when they talk with you.

  Yes, coworkers will interpret a monotone voice as disinterest and lack of engagement. You are not cheating to practice a more expressive, interested tone as it will greatly help your effectiveness.

  You'll also benefit from listening to the truth in your own tone. If you can internally acknowledge how you really feel, then you can avoid unconsciously leaking out negative feelings that alienate others. Next time you or others speak, listen while the body talks. The power in your communication will benefit enormously from your new awareness. 

  The last word(s)

  Q. When people are rude and arrogant, I can't seem to stop confronting them. Unfortunately, these people just get madder. Is there a way to fight fire with fire without an escalation?

  A. No. Even the fire department uses water. Techniques that extinguish the conflict work better.

Dareen Skube, Phi.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.


Printed in the September 4, 2016 - September 17, 2016 edition


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