Tonality Copy

Tonality – 38% of your message

How can your tone change the meaning or intent of your message? Here are a few of the main ones to start with.

  • Volume
  • Emphasising words
  • A pause in the wrong place
  • The way you inflect a word or phrase
  • Your emotion at the time

Volume: As your volume changes either up or down, it can affect your message. The tone changes to the level of the volume. It might be more breathy and airy, which could indicate self-doubt, or hesitation. If it were louder it could come across as strength or forceful. A small change can make a big difference to the listener.

Emphasising: Here is a simple 8 word statement that when each word is emphasised, it completely changes its’ meaning.

I never said that boy stole that chocolate!

Not everything here will apply to you – pick what does and gain the self-awareness that will help you grow

A Pause: Be aware that when you pause, the other person or people will want to jump in. We will explore this a bit further when we do active listening in this module. If you pause too soon, the listener doesn’t understand the message as they only have a portion of it. This means they will make up their own interpretation of what you are saying. If you pause too late, eg after you should have, say at the end of a statement or sentence, the listener will automatically be focused on what is to come and not pay enough attention to what has gone before. In either instance, the message you want to give has changed.

Good examples of a deliberate pause to control the conversation are politicians and reporters. In order to keep control and focus the listeners on them and their message without interruption, they say the first word of their next sentence. They delay their pause. A pause means ” I have finished this point of my message and you can have your turn to speak if you like.”

Example: They use words like: maybe, but, however, I would like to add, of course, etc. – The car rolled over and stopped in the middle of the road (pause) At this point it could invite other to speak Lets keep going – The car rolled over and stopped in the middle of the road however ( now pause) there was no damage …………

Pausing is particularly relevant to the DISC profiles. It affects each style differently, and it is also a good way to determine someones profile. Especially if you are on the phone and can’t observe their behaviour.


Inflections: As a general rule, when you inflect up, e.g. the pitch of your voice goes up-at the end of a word or sentence, it invites a response. It is a question or encourages involvement in the conversation. If you want to make a statement, something definitive or making a closed point, then your inflection will go down. It can often indicate a finality. Listen to news broadcasters, politicians and reporters and you will see how they inflect, and change tonality to make their point stronger, or more deliberate.

Like everything in this course, self-awareness of your tonality is important. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who inflects their voice upwards, often very high, at the end of every comment or statement. Could this be annoying to the listener? It provides no colour variation in the interaction with the listener or participant in the conversation. As a result, it is often hard to discern whether it is a question, statement, whether is has a negative or positive emotion behind it.

If you are this person, please don’t take this as a put down. Rather gain self-awareness of how you may come across to others. While your friends and family might be used to it, your new colleagues won’t be, and could well react negatively to you. As a suggestion, record yourself in a conversation and see if you can pick how others are responding to you.


Your emotional state : Your emotion can dramatically affect your tone and your message. Think of how you speak when you are in a normal or neutral state. Now think how you are when you are a little agitated. Now, when you are rather angry. There is a difference isn’t there. It is quite obvious when there is a dramatic change in our emotional tonality. The problem for us is when there are smaller changes in our emotions, and while our tonality may also only change a little, it can completely change the way someone perceives our message.

Sometimes there can be a fine line between showing anger or fear, or surprise and contempt. If you are not aware of the difference, then how do you know what the message is that you are really sending?

Ask someone you trust to comment on this in your speech. Unless we are made aware, we often have no idea of how we might be sounding, and being perceived. As we will learn shortly when we discuss rapport and your first impressions, the smallest of discernments from others about the way we communicate, can have a large impact on how we are received.