How to Use Tone of Voice to Your Advantage


‘It is not what you say that matters but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages.’
-William Carlos Williams

The name Albert Mehrabian probably isn’t very familiar to many of us. It should be though, because he is responsible for one of the most quoted findings in the field of human communication.

Mehrabian was responsible for his discovery that the words used in face-to-face communications account for only 7% of messages received, while body language and vocal tone account for 55% and, 38% respectively.

This is called the rule of 7/38/55%. Professor Mehrabian’s findings are frequently trotted out at personal development seminars, emphasizing the importance of body language and vocal tone over the words which we use.

The implication is clear: good communication goes beyond the words you use to convey a message. Speech writers spend hours crafting their speeches to perfection. How many of these dedicated people invest as much time in their presentation skills as they do in their vocabularies? It is clear that top communicators rely far more heavily upon appropriate body language and vocal tone to get their message across more effectively than reciting from a dictionary.

The Science of Speech 

Plenty of research has gone in to determining which vocal tones are more pleasing to the human ear. First, a little biology: the tones of the voice originate from the triangular chamber at the upper end of the trachea, or windpipe. The front part of this chamber forms the ‘Adam’s Apple’ visible in men (women have one too, just smaller). The vocal chords are comprised of two strips of tissue that, which, when air is passed through, vibrate to produce a vocal tone (a fascinating YouTube video stroboscopy, or camera view, of the living vocal chords can be found here.)

Power of the Pitch

While preferences for particular vocal tones can vary from person to person, there are a few rules that have been revealed through research. For example, lower vocal tones have been shown to generally possess more authority than higher ones.

According to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, vocal pitch (highness and lowness) is perceived to have an effect upon the perception of the leadership capabilities of the speakers. This is shown to be heavily influenced by their gender.

Women with higher pitched voices were perceived as more attractive, while those with lower pitches were more socially dominant. Men, on the other hand, who possess lower voices, were perceived as ‘more attractive, physically stronger, and socially dominant.’

Research conducted in 2011 linked deep male voices to improved memory in females, while a further study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario discovered voters were more likely to favour candidates with lower voices.

Use your Vocal Tone to become a Better Communicator 

The use of body language is one thing, but how can we work on how we use vocal tones to become better communicators? Salespeople are adept at this. Whether it’s a telemarketer calling to compare credit cards, a charity collector on the street, a shop assistant or salesperson, many people involved in sales implement these skills instinctively.

Used in both your personal and professional life, there’s no escaping the fact that developing an excellent use of vocal tone will pay dividends. Judith Filek of Impact Communications suggests some ingenious techniques for improving the tone of your voice:

1. Ensure you are breathing from the diaphragm, which is the muscle beneath your rib cage. Shallow breathing will make your voice sound strained.
2. Make sure you drink plenty of water all day to keep your vocal chords properly lubricated.
3. Ensure you limit your intake of caffeine as it is a diuretic.
4. Sit up straight: posture not only influences your voice, but also your confidence.
5. Use gestures to energize your voice. This will help give your voice added power when you are tired. Smiling also helps ‘warm’ your voice.
6. Record your voice. This is a particularly illuminating technique for some!
7. Try speaking at a slightly lower octave, as research has shown that those who speak at a lower octave are often presumed to have more credibility.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on your vocal tone.

If you are interested in this post, you might consider the following posts
1) First Impressions
2) How to Make a Great First Impression
3) Advantages and Disadvantages of Written and Spoken Communication

Better Interpersonal Communication


Six of the Most Common Leadership Communication Styles


Author: Simon Lee Smith

There was an interesting article in PR Week last week, on the subject of leadership communication. Entitled ‘Get the best out of your boss’ it outlines six of the most common leadership styles and suggests how communicators can best play to the personalities of their leaders. It’s a nice reminder of the breadth of styles we have to work with and provides some useful pointers on how to play to your boss’s particular strengths.
The six leadership styles – and the supporting descriptions (I’ve paraphrased) are:

1. Visionary leader – the classic rock star CEO who sets the big-picture and excels at moving people towards a shared vision. These leaders are superb public speakers and enjoy life in the spotlight. Barack Obama is a good example.
2. Affiliative leader – this type of leader wants to be your friend. A collaborative figure, the affiliative leader focuses on emotional needs and is most likely to ask ‘how are you?’. Angela Merkel is held up as an example. 
3. Coaching leader – holds long conversations that often extend beyond the work place. Good at helping employees identify their strengths and weaknesses and linking these to career goals. Step forward Dr Who.
4. Democratic leader -these are the great listening leaders, though this is sometimes at the expense of decisive action. Favorite catchphrases include ‘what do you think?’. They like to show the way without pushing people in a particular direction. Lord Sebastian Coe is a good example.
5. Pacesetter leader – most likely to say ‘copy me’, these hard working leaders never shirk a challenge and lead by example. One downside is that they often expect employees to automatically get the picture. Step forward Margaret Thatcher…
6. Commanding leader – an old-school taskmaster who brings the dynamics of the playground into the boardroom. Very command and control in style they stick to one clear direction and refuse to consider an alternative routes or messages. Montgomery Burns is a good example. 

The communicators quoted in the article, among them David Ferrabee and James Harkness, provide lots of useful advice on working with these types, including:

Providing visionary leaders the right platform and sufficient time to explain their vision to others and gather feedback. High profile tactics like webcasts and regular publication profiles go down well with these types, but they may sometimes lack an eye for detail and require specific IC support in this area.

Identifying opportunities for affiliative leaders to show their steel. Tactics like back to the floor are useful here, as are structured team meetings which focus on sharing constructive feedback. One classic issue with these types is their desire to communicate only the positive messages.

Playing to the strengths of coaching leaders by encouraging them to host small, intimate sessions and focus on helping people turn strategy into action. These types are not great at big picture, but excel at one-to-one.

Creating high-involvement forums for democratic leaders – workshops, online forums and blogs are particularly powerful. Clear, decisions communications help overcome this leader’s tendency towards indecision. Arm them with insights and intelligence about the workforce and they should respond well.

Encouraging the pacesetting leader to be more inclusive, more considerate of the feelings of others and creating plenty of listening opportunities. Inclusivity is key here and tactics like recognition programmes and use of social media channels can be useful.

Context is critical for the commanding leader. Rather than just explaining what to people, they need to focus on building understanding around the why. Big picture strategy is important here – and tactics like learning maps and visuals and strategy tool kits can be very handy.  Listening channels are important too – and employees may require anonymity as commanding leaders can breed distrust and fear. Coaching in body language is also useful. Visit us at  Gatehouse Group for more information on Communication. 

Author: Lee Smith is co-founder of Gatehouse, an internal communication  agency, consultancy on internal communications, internal comms, employee communication, research, audit, jobs, change management and employee engagement.

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Get a Grip: Six Handshakes You Need to Know


While people may decide 10 things about you within 10 seconds of seeing you, it takes only 1-3 seconds to speak volumes through your handshake. Having a firm handshake is essential in the business world. It’s a key ingredient in creating a good first impression.
President and Michelle Obama slipped up when they gave the Queen of England the “sandwich” handshake. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to appear on Fox TV in Chicago to discuss it!

You always shake with your right hand unless you have a disability. If that is the case, immediately offer your left hand so people know to shake it. If arthritis or carpel tunnel syndrome makes it painful for you to have your hand shaken, say so to keep others from unknowingly hurting you and making them feel ill at ease when you wince.

I’ll discuss six handshakes that every good communicator needs to know. Even if you don’t use them, you need to be aware of what messages others are sending so you can file the information to use during the interaction.

Correct Way

Connect with the other person web-to-web. (The web is the area between your thumb and index finger.) Hold the person’s hand firmly. Shake three times maximum, no higher than three or four inches. Maintain constant eye contact.


As soon as your hands are linked, you purposely maneuver your hand onto the top. There’s no doubt you want to be in charge! Astute communicators note the message and adjust according to the circumstances, i.e. are you the manager or the employee, the vendor or the purchaser?


You envelope another person’s hand such that s/he feels like the filling in a sandwich. This gesture shows more intimacy and is not recommended the first time you meet someone. You are invading the private zone in her/his space bubble by enclosing her/his hand. You can use this handshake to show sincerity and concern after you know someone will appreciate it.

Limp fingers

This is the most awkward handshake for the other person. You extend only your fingertips, and s/he is not sure how to grasp them or how hard to shake. Occasionally, it happens by accident when two people aim poorly. More often, it signals lack of confidence or self-esteem and is a poor way to start off a business relationship. One solution that lessens the negative impression is to extend your hand its full length even if your handshake is weak so that the other person can grasp the entire hand rather than just fingertips.

Dead Fish

This is the slippery, damp hand you extend … and others can’t wait to get it over with. If you are nervous and perspire, carry a handkerchief or wipe your hand on your clothes. What you spend in cleaning bills will be paid for quickly in a better impression. You may unwittingly offer this handshake when you hold a cold beverage in your right hand and then switch it to your left to shake hands. The condensation is bound to remain on your right hand. Suggestions: Hold beverages in your left hand, set them on a table after you have taken a drink or don’t indulge.

Bone Crusher

Given accidentally (and sometimes on purpose), this one is practiced mostly by men. It can be painful when given by someone with a big hand and strong grip to someone with a smaller, more delicate hand. The hurt is enhanced if the person wears a ring on the right hand and the stone happens to be askew. If I know the person well, I’ll smile and say, “Hey, I need to use this hand again.” If I don’t know her/him, I’ll remove my hand as quickly as is feasible. If any firm handshake can make you wince because you have arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome, etc. do not extend your hand. If you think further explanation is needed then add that it can be painful for you to shake hands and, therefore, you don’t. There is no ideal way to counter the bone crusher. My comfort is that with the myriad hands I shake, I am rarely “accosted” by it.

Article Author: Lillian Bjorseth

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