Don’t take that tone with me…

The power of ‘tone’….

Tone of voice.. an element of communication that can often be lost or misconstrued, whether that be through the use of devices or during face to face conversations. Tone, whether we like it or not greatly influences a conversation – it can be used as a a tool to convey empathy and kindness, to intimidate or induce fear,  or to highlight ones position of authority. Tone has power to change the meaning of a statement…

Through a recent occurrence I recognized that although ones ‘tone’ amidst conversation is a pivotal, so is ones perception and reaction – especially if the tone is perceived in a negative light. The way one choses to perceive and react during conversation is within their control…

It is important to speak and listen with purpose and consideration – to be self aware and socially aware, recognizing we are all human; with experiences, triggers & emotions, that influence our perception and reaction to conversation & day to day life scenarios. 

My learning moment… 

Earlier this week I had a doctors appointment and was asked if it would be alright for a medical student completing her ‘practicum’ to take the lead – understanding the value of a practicum experience, I of course agreed. Part of this appointment was to review some blood work, blood work which revealed I have high cholesterol. Although I was not entirely surprised by this news given my family history I was still not happy with these results…

To provide a little context for readers who do not know me personally, I work out anywhere between 5-6 days a week (grew up a competitive athlete) and eat a diet that has minimal to no dairy/gluten, zero red meat & I cannot remember the last time I had a fast food meal… To add a layer of emotion to this scenario, I will share that 5 years ago my Dad had emergency open heart surgery after finding out the main artery of his heart was 100% blocked. 8 months prior to these he completed a 25 day trek through the Himalayas. He was by every definition fit and healthy, and to many his surgery came as a shock.

 Needless to say,  genetically – I kinda lost the coin toss on this one…

Unaware of my family history or current life style, this new doctor chose to use a tone I perceived to be very demeaning and inconsiderate when asked “what can I be doing to lower my cholesterol?” … A question to which she responded “well you should probably start exercising more and watching what you eat, try and eat healthy”… Whether or not she meant it to be said in a negative tone, I, the recipient took it as such. Recognizing that my reaction to this statement was rooted in emotion as I held back tears…she excused herself to retrieve my long term family doctor – who understanding my family history reassured me the number was not high enough to be concerned as of yet, that we will continue watching it, medication was not necessary at this point and there are things we can try to hopefully lower it naturally….

In retrospect I recognize I could have handled this situation differently – I reacted out of frustration and fear… I observed first handedly the impact that tone truly has…. 

Things to think about…. 

  • How self aware are you in regards to your tone of voice? How does it change? How may people perceive it?
  • What purpose does our tone have in different situations?
  • How do our students perceive our tone?
  • How often is tone lost and messages misunderstood through the use of text and emails?

INTERESTING VIDEO TO CHECK OUT David Coleman Talks about… Tone of Voice


6 thoughts on “Don’t take that tone with me…

  1. I agree with what you are saying here. We have to be aware of our tone, but I think you are getting at a bigger problem here of judgement. I think one of the biggest thing I have learned from working at inner city schools is that people so often are quick to judge and not so interested in investing the time (whether it’s because of lack of time, a need to solve a problem quickly, or a view that they know better) to find out the background stories.

    As well we need to work on ourselves and helping our students be able to deal with the tone/judgement… misinterpretation of others especially when dealing with digital mediums. We need to not automatically assume that comments were made as criticisms but most of the time, I hope, out if care and concern and wanting to help.

    • Exactly Iram – it was quite a learning moment for me. To recognize how I reacted to what was being said, and to recognize that the feedback given was out of concern, and not said to be cruel or hurtful…

      We definitely need to be aware of both sides of a conversation, how we are choosing to judge what is being said – and be willing to invest the time to understand other perspectives… for me all of these pieces link back to Social and Emotional learning – understanding self and others.

      Thanks for your comment!!

  2. Saw this post on Facebook, recommended by another Surrey teacher, so I thought I’d check it out. Firstly, thanks for sharing such a deeply personal reflection! Communication is fascinating. Your emotions having heard the feedback initially would, I think, necessitate a gentle “bed-side manner” as they say. Added to that is two different doctors. A brand new doctor probably should have asked about family history, before giving a rundown on how to lower cholesterol, but since she didn’t, we all recognize that newbies can’t think of it all, plus some possible nervousness on her part (who knows?). Her statement is troubling as it is – the tone cannot be perceived through a blogpost. At the same time, though, had it been your family doctor who had said the same statement, I would have found it very offensive. He should know (to some degree) the kind of lifestyle you lead and your family history. So the statement itself is problematic. Again, we cannot hear the tone used when it’s written.

    A doctor should know the gravity of a statement re: high cholesterol in someone as young as you. With that, comes the responsibility to provide information to the patient in a non-judgmental way.

    The world seems pretty rushed these days. The tone used by many (and I’m guilty from time to time) is somewhat dismissive so we can get on to the next person, next problem, next issue, etc. Lots going on.

    For me, the biggest difficulty today is that so much of our communication is via e-mail and text… and through this medium, tone is entirely inferred. While there are ways to get your point across BY YELLING, in most cases, the writer’s tone is not able to be implied, but can easily be mistaken during inference.

    I liked your post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Brad, Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment about my blog post. I completely agree that the world seems rushed these days, that people tend to move through the world skimming the surface of conversation and issues without recognize they have deep meaningful layers from which we get take away the deepest learning. As the world moves faster and people keep pace with it, we have become even quicker to judge people and situations it seems.

      Thanks again for your comment, I very much appreciate your insight 🙂

  3. I love this, Sarah! Well, I don’t love that you have high cholesterol, but you know what I mean. 😉

    I agree, tone is so huge! While I understand that it is our perception that makes ‘tone’ a reality, people do need to take care when using tones and should be more aware of how their tone can impact others. This is especially true with professionals (doctors and teachers alike) who work with PEOPLE (who all have their own stuff happening in their life that we can not be completely aware of). As I continue to say, it is all about learning. It would have been nice if the doctor-in-training took time to learn more about you, your diet, level of exercise, history, etc… before making a judgement and using a ‘tone’. Had she took time out to understand perhaps the tone would have been non-existent and perhaps, just perhaps, she may have been more sympathetic, empathetic and understanding, thus having you react in a different manner. Before making a judgement, we all need to learn to take time to understand and learn first.

    Well said, Sarah! I hope you get it all figured out. I’m glad you are taking control of your health and being pro-active with it, especially considering your family history.

    • Thanks Tia! I 100% agree it is all about learning, about recognizing how you speak to others and how misinterpretations of information can happen – we need to slow down, understand each other and be considerate of peoples backgrounds and experiences.

      It will all be figured out in good time – nothing to be overly concerned about right now, just keeping an eye on things 🙂

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