I've been thinking a lot lately about tone of voice and how I hear things (I wrote a somewhat related piece not too long ago) and what that really means in my life.
Last Sunday we had family over for lunch and this question hit me. Someone asked my husband a question and when he answered it sounded pretty snarky -like "yes (of course, what a stupid question)". The person who had asked then responded - "don't answer me in that tone" (Okay yes, you guessed it, it was his mother). He backed down and they continued the conversation. Later when I looked back at it I realized that somehow when she asked the question we heard it like an accusation. Was it her tone or how we heard it? I can't really say at this point, perhaps a combination of both.
Why do I sometimes (more often than I would like) hear this way? Is it really the tone people use or is it the tone I hear with? Perhaps both. I can only guess at why.
Our society has become by and large very informal and one by-product of that, I believe, is a reduction in politeness and respect. We treat most everyone with inappropriate familiarity and take liberties we are not entitled to. Our culture has promoted a "say whatever you think, make sure you're true to yourself" conversation style. Except it's not a conversation, it's potshots on Twitter and verbal landmines on Facebook. These volleys are thrown about like rose petals at a wedding - but instead of making a soft carpet to stroll down with pleasant, soothing scents to envelope us, we become shell-shocked and have our own version of PTSD to deal with. Thus, we hear perfectly innocent questions sounding like accusatory missiles and we ask questions with bad tones because we expect automatically expect a counter attack.
All of this has made me examine my own tone, both the tone I speak with and the tone I hear with. It is my intention to reverse this negative trend in my life. When I was younger I had a bad habit of saying "um" and "you know". I wanted to break this bad speech pattern, so I trained myself to be hypersensitive to using those words. It didn't take too long before I was able to break that habit. I am going to try the same thing with this issue.
I have no control over other people's tone. But I do have control over my own - both spoken and heard. So, step one is to become super sensitive to the tone I use when I speak, ask questions, and write. For me this means I have to start with hesitating before I respond, to set my tone before I speak. It's not so much an issue for me of what I say, it's how I say it. Step two will be to incorporate grace into my hearing. More than likely this exercise will take some time, but just like taking on healthier living habits, I believe this will be worth the work.
Labels: civility, control, Facebook, society, tone, Twitter, verbal landmines