It’s All in How You Say It

Ever had this happen? You say something, and all of a sudden, the other person is very irritated, and you have no idea what just happened.

Well, sometimes it’s something going on inside them. It’s not about you at all. I address that issue in different posts. But sometimes, though, we created the problem by our tone of voice.

Let’s have some fun as we see how this works. Please say these sentences, using your tone of voice to change the meaning.

“You did the dishes!” First, say it as if you mean “Finally! I only asked you to do them ten times.” Now say it as if you went into the kitchen to clean the dishes, only to discover this delightful surprise. They are already clean and put away. Hear the difference? You use the exact same words, but the meaning is completely opposite.

“Nice driving.” First, say it as if they negotiated the holiday traffic safely and carefully, and you enjoyed the trip. Now say it sarcastically, meaning, “You are a bozo and we are lucky you didn’t cause an accident.” Again, the tone voice changes the meaning, doesn’t it?

Now, why does this matter so much? It’s something I call ‘push-push back’. When you feel that someone is ‘pushing’ on you, what do you feel like doing?

Yes. That’s it exactly. Nearly everyone wants to ‘push back’. The challenge is to realize that our words may be just fine. But if our tone of voice is sarcastic or mean, we are ‘pushing’, and they are most likely to push back, and it goes downhill from there. That vacation, instead of being a joy, becomes something to endure. A family trip to the mall creates resentments that last for months. Those dishes become a point of contention. Couples push back by snapping at each other at every opportunity. Ouch. What a painful way to live.

So instead of that, this is our challenge for today: Have some fun choosing a positive tone of voice as you speak to others. And for an extra bonus, look for something you sincerely like or appreciate about the other, and tell them. It’s a lighter way to live.


  1. Andrea Williams says:

    Tone of voice is crucial!

    My daughter was told at her workplace that her speech pattern frequently had a silent “dumbass” at the end, especially when someone had asked her a question. She worked hard at losing it at work; unfortunately, she seems to delight in using it with me.

    Another thing that she does when answering a question from me is draw out a word, such as my question: “Do you want breakfast now?” Her answer, “Y e e e s s s, I want to eat,” as though her answer should be obvious to anyone other than a complete idiot.

  2. Terry Turner says:

    Andrea, Thank you for sharing such powerful examples. So often we don’t realize our own tone of voice. (Been there). It’s nice your daughter’s co-worker let her know!

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