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Non-Verbal Communication Con’t – How Our Tone Determines What Our Partner Hears

In my last newsletter I spoke about the role that non-verbal gestures play in our communication. In this post I am going to talk about how tone can move our conversation forward or hold it back.

How many times have you apologized and your partner accused you of not really meaning it? We all know what this looks like, it is the quick, or the exaggerated apology that usually doesn’t help resolve the issue it at hand. What about the time your partner told you he couldn’t wait to see the latest Nicholas Sparks movie in such a way that you both ended up having a giggle over it? The point is, our tone plays a big role in how we communicate and the messages we receive.

Here are some of the more common ways tone plays a role in our communication:

  1. Humor – even if the words seem serious, it’s the tone that can tell us if someone is joking around
  2. Interpreting intent and authenticity –
  3. Apologies – our tone shows if we are sincere with our apologies or merely just using the words “I’m Sorry”
  4. Mood – we can tell if someone is energetic, tired, happy, grumpy etc
  5. Feelings – someone’s tone can give away how they are feeling (ex/loud and aggressive can mean angry, upbeat and energetic can mean excited etc)

There are many more but those are the ones we see on a regular basis. The reason this is so important is because our tone contributes significantly to our relationship satisfaction. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a serious conversation with your partner and he keeps acting dismissive or cracking jokes. On the flip side, there is nothing more rewarding than feeling like your partner is really present and responding to you in a way that makes you feel heard and supported.

So here is what I recommend if you find you or your partner’s tones are getting in the way of you healthily connecting. The next time an issue comes up and you feel like your partner’s tone is out of sync with the issue, instead of getting mad and yelling over it (or worse, stonewalling your partner with silence), take a deep breath and let him know how it impacts you and what you think would be more helpful. For example “love, when you sarcastically respond to my concerns I am left feeling like what I value in this relationship isn’t important. I really want to resolve this so that we can move forward and spend our time doing more fun things instead of being angry at each other. Do you think you can stop using that tone when I am talking to you about this and instead take this a bit more seriously?”

I also recommend thinking about some of the ways in which you bring tone into your relationship that aren’t helpful. Once you have thought of some, tell your partner that you just realized you do these sometimes and ask him how they impact him/her. The more awareness you can bring to your relationship and how you communicate the more likely you are to stop the bad habits and replace them with healthy ones.

What do you find are your biggest tone triggers? What tones do you use that you want to work on getting rid of? Let me know in the comments section below!

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