Forget the tone

Don’t use that tone with me!

Watch your tone young lady!

It was the tone of your voice that upset me.

I am always hearing people commenting on the tone of what was said to them, as if there is nothing more important in communication that the tone of voice. Yes, the tone in which we say something is important, but it often needs to be ignored if you want to get to the root of the problem.

If your teenager is trying to tell you why they’re upset or why they are acting a certain way, it’s vital that you try to forget the tone for a minute and really try to hear what they’re saying. If you jump straight in with: Don’t use that tone with me, you’ll most probably get a door slammed in your face or in the very least, the conversation will come to a grinding halt. I’m not suggesting that we let people get away with being aggressive or constantly rude, but if you only focus on the tone, you will risk losing the chance of communicating at all. A more helpful response to an outburst would be: Wow, I can see you’re furious/upset/ frustrated and I’m trying to ignore your tone because I really want to understand what’s going on for you.

The same rule applies in our relationship with our partners. If your partner is upset or angry, you need to know about it. But if the only focus is on the tone used when the emotion is being expressed, then our partner might give up trying to let us know how they’re feeling. An irritable partner needs some empathy and a gentle reminder that you are worried about them because they keep snapping at you.

Obviously, if the tone signals impending aggression or potential abuse or violence, then that’s not okay and you need to quickly remove yourself from the situation. But, when the tone is snappy or curt or just not friendly, then it’s often better for your relationships to try as hard as you can to hear the underlying message.

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