Have you ever listened to a recording of yourself and not been able to believe you sounded like that? I have. The truth is we often don’t have a clue how we sound to others. Do I sound whiny? Do I sound gruff or abrupt? Do I sound bored?
With so much emphasis these days on the importance of listening, I think some time also needs to be given to how the person who is speaking will sound to others.
There are people we would much rather listen to than others. Their tone and expression is engaging. They appear to be genuinely interested. They sound concerned about the welfare of others.
People who are perceived as self-centred or disinterested do not get an audience for long. The same is true for people who are harsh, or whiny. We tend to withdraw from them.
So the truth is that if you want to be heard, you have to be listening–to yourself.
Think of saying the following:
It’s raining again.
If you are happy that it is raining, your tone will be different than if it has been raining for forty days and forty nights.
Now consider a relationship, like a marriage. Your spouse forgot to pick up the mail when he or she said they would. You respond:
Did you pick up the mail?
You didn’t pick up the mail.
You forgot to pick up the mail, again.
Does your spouse hear, “I care about you as a person. I know you mean well. Sometimes you slip up, but, really, it’s not a big deal.” Or does he or she hear something like this:
Did you pick up the mail? (Accusation in the wings, waiting to pounce and nail him.)
You didn’t pick up the mail. (Gotcha! What I expected.)
You forgot to pick up the mail, again. (You hopeless, pathetic…)
The tone of our words is like body language. It just happens. And it flows out of our attitude. If I think the world is out to get me, I will sound like a fighter, abrupt and defensive. If I feel hopeless, and think I am always the victim, I will whine and pout. But if I am hopeful, if I genuinely appreciate others, and am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, then my tone will more likely be uplifting and encouraging.
We may be disappointed, but we do not actually have to make the other person feel small. There’s no need to dump on them the full weight of all of our past discouragement. Instead we can voice hope, maybe even offer praise, “You usually remember the mail.”
To do this effectively will require taking a moment to evaluate how others hear us. A small adjustment can make a big difference.