Why Did You Say It Like That?

The title of this article is a nod to a favorite comedienne, Rita Rudner, who did a wonderful bit on the importance of our tone of voice. Her future husband was proposing, according to her story. It was a delightful routine. I especially loved it because it demonstrated one of my favorite topics: the message we send by our tone of voice.

One of the reasons many of us love emojis is because most of the meaning in our communication comes from our body language, our facial expressions and our tone of voice. When we email, text, tweet or post on Facebook, we lose all of those ways of communicating. With the little pictures that are emojis, we hope to clarify whether we are being funny, witty, sarcastic, encouraging, and so on.

But when we are talking in person to our loved ones, no emojis are available, and we are back to our body language, our face and our voice. I’ll talk about body language and facial expressions in later posts. This post is all about our voice.

To feel the difference your tone of voice can make, let’s have some fun. Would you say out loud (depending on where you are, of course) “Come here.” Just those two words. First, please say it as if you are very angry. Now, say it as if it’s your honeymoon and you are inviting your new spouse to your marriage bed. Isn’t that amazing? The exact same words can have absolutely opposite meanings, based only on our tone of voice.

Now try another. Your line is “What.” First, say as if your spouse calls your name from another room, and you are thinking “Quit bothering me.” Now say it again, while thinking how very lucky you are to have this spouse. Hopefully, those two are radically different. Again, it’s all in how you said it.

What’s the point of all this? Well, sometimes in a relationship, frankly, we get sloppy. It’s too easy to take for granted all the good in the other person, and focus on the parts that we don’t like. Pretty soon, those parts get magnified in our mind. We ignore all the things we appreciate and that they do well. Then, we start sending the message with our tone of voice that we don’t like the other person at all….and I’m sure you can figure out all the relationship disasters that can happen after that.

So our challenge for today: Listen to the tone of voice we use when talking to our loved ones. What’s the message we are sending about how we think of them. Or in other words, ‘Why did you say it like that?’

Terry Turner
As a military brat, Terry’s early life was spent enjoying other countries and cultures. Add to this her forty years of teaching Communication Skills in both aerospace and education, and she has many ideas to share and stories to tell. Now happily retired and living in Northern California, she spends her time writing and enjoying life.
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13 Responses

  1. Avatar Tammy Douse says:

    A good reminder on how and what we communicate.

  2. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    Thank you so much, Tammy! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Avatar sue says:

    Thank you, Terry.

  4. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    Somewhere in the figgy, foggy mists of past posts I alluded to this very thing. I said that we look at language groups that carry tonal meaning, then we smugly (well at least I did when I was in high school) think that we don’t have that very thing to worry about in our language. . . . . HA!!! How many meanings can you get out of the single word, “NO!”??? Good to be reminded of this every so often!! Thank you.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      What a great example, Adrienne! The single word “NO!” can have so many meanings. I loved your insights about the tonal meaning in language groups. Thank goodness for all we’ve learned since high school! Glad you enjoyed the article. 🙂

  5. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Communication really is (almost) everything, and you point out two so simple but so true examples. And the thing is, we know darn well what we are doing with our words. They can so easily soothe or wound.

    Thank you for this, a good reminder, and looking forward to your further articles!

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      Thank you so much, Eleanor. I agree with you. Communication really is (almost) everything. What a good point that our words can so easily soothe or wound. I appreciate your support. 🙂

  6. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Excellent article Terry. In a seminar I attended years ago, the speaker claimed that body language and tone of voice carried as much information to the listener as the actual words. I was sceptical at the time, but now realize how true that is. The phrase “I hope you’re happy” come to mind. With the right tone, the meaning of this phrase is the opposite of what the words express. Thank you.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      Thank you, Joanne! And what a great example: “I hope you’re happy.” can mean opposite things depending on the tone of voice. Wonderful insight. Thank you!

  7. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Yes, of course.

    But then we have, “Her lips said no, but her eyes said yes.”

    Which required the formulation of the unambiguous declarative, “No means no.”

    If the message is ambiguous, err on the side of caution.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      What a very good point, Steve. Erring on the side of caution if you’re reading one message from the body and another from the words is a good plan.
      As you know, our body language is learned from our family as we grow, and is different from family to family and culture to culture. Remembering “No means no.” is the best idea!

  8. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Heh. I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of guy who erred on the side of caution, even during my honkytonk hero (so I thought) single daze.

    Most of the women–and men–in my circle of musical friends are huggers, so I didn’t feel that I had much to worry about among friends. But then, the Biden thing again. I realized that for a few years, I’ve kissed three of my female friends on the top of the head while hugging them. I never asked them; I just felt comfortable doing it.

    I engaged in a casual mission to determine if those head kisses were welcome. Last night, I ran into the third and last of the three women, and she also confirmed that the head kisses were okay. Mission complete.

    Whew. I guess I don’t have to abandon my plan to run for president as the Mars Colonization Movement candidate in 2028 after all.

    • Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

      What a wonderful post, Hal!
      I’m a hugger, too, and have learned, like you, that it is better to check in with the other person if I’m not sure if they are comfortable with a hug. Then we know for sure that it’s welcome. Well Done!
      And Mars’ gain would be our major loss, so please don’t run for president of the Mars Colonization Movement. 🙂