Emotions operate like a virus, traveling from person to person, creating a collage of feelings. When emotions are allowed to flow unabated, they can cause a virus that connects with the team that can be productive or unconstructive.
Your tone of voice amounts to how you say what you have to say. When you are able to manage your emotions at work, you can effectively manage your tone. It is important to recognize that not only are your emotions communicated through tone, your personality also shines through it. Therefore, as a leader, your ability to master your tone of voice directly affects the climate of your team on a daily basis.
As you step into your office at the beginning of your day, your tone sets the course for that day. It helps determine whether you will have a positive, delightful day or not. How other people use their tones can also affect the quality of your day if you allow their emotional contagion to affect you.
Leaders who master their tone of voice, first understand how they see and connect with the world. They perceive challenges as temporary, and they feel empowered because they have a deep sense that no matter how a situation appears, effort is possible. Helen Keller once said, “No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.” Tone can cause distress, help persons have a beneficial day, or even go a step further to ignite the human spirit.
I periodically facilitate a course where there is a case study about a newly appointed supervisor who inherits a team of employees and the second most senior person on the team was recently transferred from another department despite the fact that before his transfer, his attitude and performance deteriorated significantly.
The case study seems to intentionally exclude a clear explanation for the decline of his attitude and performance but invariably, the students in my classes assume the non-performing employee is being insubordinate. They don’t always perceive the multiple contributing factors so their solution focuses only on solving the symptoms of a much bigger challenge.
Based on this thinking path the students usually recommend a meeting between the wayward employee and the new team leader. The tone of their recommended conversation is usually a corrective one centered solely on improving low performance, not the non-performing employee’s morale. They may even consider terminating the non-performing employee despite the fact they don’t know why his performance deteriorated.
A sterile performance improvement conversation is not the tone needed to resolve the deeper trust issue that was apparent in the case. The tone of the conversation should communicate, “I care about you and your career.” or “I am ready to build trust.” The path through this conversation requires empathy, authenticity and non-judgement otherwise attempted solutions will fail. When building or rebuilding a work relationship, time, authenticity and non-judgmental, inviting tone are critical.
There are two different types of tones you can use to communicate empathy and extend an invitation to forgive. One of the positive tones that can be used to mend an impaired work relationship is the tone of a wise one. It is aware, appreciative, warm, and empathetic. Another tone that can be used to support a solution, is a curious, inviting tone. This type of tone invites an opening that can be used to perceive possibilities for solutions. A more work focused, tactical tone is never useful when strengthening a work relationship is necessary.
Your tone of voice is such a formidable tool. Another important function is that you can use your tone to deescalate conflict. Used in this way, your tone can help you diffuse the emotion displayed by angry clients, effectively engage difficult coworkers or navigate disagreements with vendors.
For example, when you encounter a loud, agitated person, it is in your best interest to listen. If you try to explain, blame or reject anything that is being said in the heat of anger, the emotion will intensify instead of dissipate. You cannot hold a constructive conversation when emotion is raw so it is important to manage your tone and body language without allowing your emotions to get the best of you. Self-regulation opens the space for a solution to emerge. Otherwise, an unproductive conversation can happen, and things may be said that cannot be reversed.
Tone does not only emanate through sound. It can be embedded in your body language. Disagreement, judgment, anger, can all be projected through your body language, creating a much more credible tone than the one being vocalized. I encounter so many people who are aware of their lack of self-regulation of their body language. They feel there is nothing they can do about it. They think it just is what it is. This line of reasoning is erroneous because your emotional intelligence can be developed in order to become more disciplined about using your body language productively.
As you go through your day, I invite you to consider the fact that your tone can be used to connect, empower and uplift your team. As a leader, you have the choice to hold the space for productive, respectful exchanges by mastering the skill of using tone.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.