Did you know that the ‘way’ you say something (tone) has more weighting on what you say than the words you use? All too often we focus on the words that we use rather than the way we use them. It’s true that words are important. In the field of Law, if you don’t read the ‘fine print’ – the words – then you could get into trouble.


Sometimes the words only account for a small part of the impact of what is being said.

Let’s take for example the phrase:

“Who did this?”

Now depending on how this is said, the reaction of those around will be quite different. If the phrase was said in a delighted tone, it’s likely to bring everyone forward seeking to take the credit.

However, if the same phrase was said in an angry tone, you are likely to get the opposite response. If you’re uncertain as to how this works, try it out at home. My kids tend to all rush in when the ‘delighted’ tone is used and hide when the ‘angry’ tone is employed.

There are many tones we can add too. Tones are ways of speaking and the list is pretty huge. Some examples include:

Angry, Frustrated, Happy, Amazed, Bored, Confused, Amorous, Excited, Embarrassed, Friendly, Sad, Anxious, Condescending, Scared.

Why don’t you practice saying a shopping list in different tones to someone and see if they can guess which tone you’re using. They’ll usually be right.

Coaching on Tone

In a coaching situation with staff members or if staff members are talking to customers, you can also change the whole meaning of a sentence by where you put the biggest emphasis. The intonation of the voice can alter meaning dramatically.

Take this sentence for example:

“I never said you could leave early.”

It seems pretty harmless right?

Okay – let’s look at changing the intonation (the emphasis) of each word in turn and look at what it does to the sentence:

 I never said you could leave early.”

Means – someone may have said you could leave early but it wasn’t me.


“I never said you could leave early.”

Means – I deny ever saying that you could leave early.


“I never said you could leave early.”

Means – I may have implied that you could leave early but didn’t actually say it.


“I never said you could leave early.”

Means – Someone else may be leaving early but not you.


“I never said you could leave early.”

Means – We may have talked about leaving early but I never confirmed it.


“I never said you could leave early.”

Means – There may be something you could do early but it wasn’t “leaving”.

“I never said you could leave early.

Means – You can leave alright but not early.



So, as you can see, the placement of the emphasis can alter the meaning of a simple seven word sentence a lot. Why is this important? Well it’s not just about the way YOU say something – as in when you are speaking with someone – that’s very important. It’s also about how the other person takes what is said. So if you speak with a monotone voice (no change in pitch or variance) then emphasis can seemingly be nowhere and if you decide to write the something down or send it by email, you open yourself up to the other person’s interpretation.

All this can depend on their current state of mind, their setting, their last interaction with you or a whole host of different impacts. If you can read a simple seven word sentence seven different ways, imagine how many ways you could take a lengthy email on how your performance was going or how you aren’t going to refund a customer!

If you’re going to communicate try to do it verbally first. Use email only as confirmation. It’s the best way an exchange of understanding can take place.

For more great tips on coaching and feedback, check out the book, ‘Coaching and Feedback made easy’ on Amazon: http://amzn.to/sihqrN