Voice—Tonal Pitch and Volume

Voice—Tonal Pitch and Volume

This final blog in this series covers tonal-language messaging—30 percent of communication--shifting between raised or lowered tonal-pitch and loud or soft volume as it craftily companions with word selection and body language adding color and vitality to dialogue. Everyone’s voice quality is unique. No one speaks exactly like you do.  I first became aware of this after a former student’s funeral 45 years after I quit teaching when a gentleman approached me and said “Mrs. Ward, I’m Jim Jones and I had you for many classes. I didn’t recognize you, but I recognized your voice as you were speaking with John.” Then he added “Your voice was always so soothing”.  That was not only news but captivating.

Listeners’ ages, maturity and hearing abilities plays a huge role in honing this last communication skill as we dialogue with family members, co-workers, in classes, clubs, church, neighborhood and others.

Side-note: I’ve chosen the less-familiar word honingrather than improving or perfecting for its definition: A whetstone of fine, compact texture for sharpening razors and other cutting tools. To make more acute or effective: improve; perfect.  To hone one’s skills.  Honing communication skills relies on listening, observation, understanding, determination, patience, practice and wisdom.  A worthy undertaking.

After researching my limited personal reservoir of varieties of voice quality, pitch and volume, my unofficial list is longer than I had anticipated:  grave, grumbly, very quiet, very loud, screechy, deep, shrill, twangy, lilting, soft, kind, sympathetic, soothing, scratchy, deep, high, nasal, throaty, breathy, slangy, enunciated, clipped, strong, and weak. Some smile while they speak, others appear glum, fast, slow, animated, shaky, etc. Was yours on my list? What descriptions would you add? Please let me know.

Think about how your voice is heard. Is it calm and positive? Or does it sound negative and curt, demanding and loud?  Ask your children and teens to describe how they hear you. And you can share how you hear them.  A fun project is to record normal conversation and critique it together.

Years ago, before we opened gifts at our family Christmas celebration Jim would tape mini-interviews with each child: how old they were, where they were in school and what they looked forward to, etc. The playback was almost torture in hearing ourselves but also rather entertaining. “Do I really sound like that?” In subsequent years the children took turns being the MC.

Practicing putting a smile in our voice renders immediate results.  Words softly whispered in one’s ear can’t be beat but when we’re in a crowd, teaching classes or parenting, keep in mind that it’s not just the words selected but the accompanying tonal pitch and volume that colors and endears messages.

Have you answered the phone and been met with “Guess who this is?”  It seems to be a compliment if you recognize someone’s voice. Jim and I often had trouble distinguishing between the voices of granddaughters, but they were incredulous about our difficulty. People appear to want you to know them by their voice.  I’m tempted to make an outlandish guess. However, I leaned early that answering the “guess who” game was risky before I had any inkling that voices were unique and choice of words was critical when the only time my Grandpa McRoberts ever called that I happened to answer. He began talking and I just listened to his fairly gruff farmer’s voice. Then he said, “Bet you don’t know who this is?”  I politely said “It’s Grandpa”. And he pressed “How’d you know?”  “You’re the only one I know who says ain’t.” I was not being smart but honest. He hung up on me, making his point. I’ve never forgotten about this 5-minute dialogue and learned a valuable lesson: think before you guess and keep it complimentary.

A significant factor in understanding tone language are the volume levels in different homes. How would you describe the tenor of your childhood home? Some recall being yelled at and everyone talking loudly much of the time, which really bothers introverts, especially in the morning.   My sibs and I don’t remember mom ever raising her voice.  She expressed disapproval but never screamed.  Rather than tell us what jobs she had for us to do, she wrote lists with our names on them.  Since the extroverts outnumbered introverts in our home, the introverts sought quiet refuge in their rooms.  Mac and I were sharing our memory of how introverted Grandma McRoberts would wake us up when we visited by standing at the foot of the stairs and barking “breakfast” in monotone, a little louder than she usually spoke.  We certainly got her message and understood what we were supposed to do quickly.

The volume involved with tonal-pitch messaging is extremely important. When Jim and I attended the year-end program of one of our grandchildren’s kindergarten classes not a word was heard from the teacher or the 20 plus children as she directed them with a voice barely above a whisper, which was her teaching voice. The children sang loudly and clearly and their musical on Cats was projected with confidence. By contrast, my brother, David, related that when their oldest son, a very quiet child, was in 1st grade he told his parents that his teacher yelled at him. “What did you do?” they asked wondering what rule he had broken.  “I told her I was not from a yelly family.”

If your group of kids or adults is especially noisy, merely speaking very quietly will often hush them up.  When I was ready to address a chatty audience of 500 women, all I would say in a normal voice was “I am ready to begin”.  I’d hear someone whisper loudly “She’s ready to begin” ...and a hush would ensue.  I learned the magic of ‘I’ statements from Haim Ginott in his book Between Parent and Child. According to Ginott, using ‘I’ statements are non-offensive and respectful.  When I subbed for 7th grade band minus a seating chart and all the instruments were sounding, I merely said quietly, “I am ready to begin”, and it got quiet.  I’d heard someone yell “Harry” as the drummer found his seat.  So, I said, we’ll begin on page 59 and Harry, we’ll depend on you”.  “You know everyone’s name?”  A kid in the front row asked. “You’re Barshinger aren’t you?” (I earlier saw his name on his notebook). We had an enjoyable band practice.  It’s hard to hold back a smile when things like that happen.

Another element in tone is how much inflection is used. Have you endured classes or meetings and fought sleep, due to the teacher/professor/preachers’ one tonal pitch with little inflection?  Unfortunately, some speakers are either too soft-spoken or so dramatic that the listeners become bored to death or exhausted. If parents’ or teachers’ tonal-pitch is low and pleasant, the pitch and volume of others in your household or group is likely to reflect the same. Angry retorts which occasionally occur can be handled quietly and wisely with ‘I’ statements. Sure, you may sometimes feel tired, hungry, overwhelmed and low on patience. Still, expressing your concerns via an irritated, frustrated, or angry voice can contaminate your household. Negative energy from a loud tonal-pitch can unnerve everyone who is listening.

Final wrap-up for communication series is: Being equipped with the skills of tonal-pitch-volume language enables us to blend with the various personality preferences in getting along with everyone as we communicate through body language, word selection, eye messages and voice.

Jesus’ golden rule promotes peace and wisdom for controlling body language, words and tonal-pitch. Treat and speak to others like you want to be treated. Matt. 7:12

My dear brothers (and sisters) take note of this; Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3: 17 (NIV).