At the Sound of the Tone …

… Tone of voice that is, the sound that gives words their direction and intention. In order to understand each other, it’s essential that we hear, recognize and respond to tone of voice. Yet we often squander the opportunity, choosing instead to click and send.

Know that I’m a big fan of email and even embrace the conveniences of texting. I started my first business back in 1987 and relied solely on the postal service to deliver information to prospects and customers. I’d have a great conversation with an enthusiastic potential client on Monday, then wait up to 10 days for them to receive promised information. Yikes! Plenty of time for their enthusiasm to cool and fade away.

I am immensely grateful for email but believe it can lull us into a place of complacency and prevent us from really serving our marketplace. Here’s a story to illustrate:

Late on Friday of last week I received email from a client  in response to details I’d sent them earlier in the week. While the message contained very clear information on next steps for a project we are working on, there were some phrases that gave me pause. In terms of timing for this project, the ideal, for both myself and the client, would have been for me to reply immediately. After all, I was sitting reading email when the message arrived and the client appreciates efficiency.

Instead I looked at the clock. It was about 4:45 pm. “Wait,” I said to myself. “Read the message again over the weekend and send a reply early Monday morning.”

So throughout the weekend I have been reading and thinking about this message, composing in my mind a correct response. And I’ve realized something … there isn’t one. I need to pick up the phone and verify what I think I’m “hearing” when I read those black words on my white screen.

Instinctively I knew this to be true on Friday at 4:45 pm when I first read the message. Yet I’ve taken up a lot of time and energy trying to compose an email response. Why? Because: 1) When a client chooses to communicate by email, I most often, automatically, respond in kind; 2) Phone calls may result in messages left, phone tag and creating timing issues that will impact the project; 3) This week is hectic. Finding the time to make the necessary calls and have the conversation will be a challenge; 4) And while I could have called as soon as I received the message I defaulted to “It’s Friday at 4:45 – not a great time to call.”

Shame on me! But I’m glad I’ve moved through this process and been present to it. It’s given me this post to share.

On my last review of the email message I realized that there are two possible answers. Both are good answers but one of them is THE right answer for the client. In order to know which one that is … I have to pick up the phone and hear the client’s tone of voice.

So from my phone language lexicon this week I give you the word tone. It is the gift of phone communication and an essential ingredient in building relationships and delivering excellence. I encourage you to stay present as you read and reply to email. Is your instinct telling you that you’re missing something? If so … pick up the phone!

Enjoy your PhoneWork everyone.

6 thoughts on “At the Sound of the Tone …”

  1. Great topic Mary Jane! For sure I love e-mail and text – in my experience, nothing beats the sound of the voice for obtaining certainty about clarity. I am away from Canada now,in a place where everyone texts, and few use their phone as a phone – yet person after person says, “call me to confirm” and the””confirmation” almost always includes a component of clarification – often based on “tone”!… I believe we would all have more time in our days if we used the phone more often and more efficiently.

    • I believe the same,Brian. We sometimes lose a bit of efficiency by defaulting to black and white messages instead of speaking to each other. So glad the post resonated with you and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Oh my, this kind of thing happens to me all the time. It’s almost like I get into email mode and it doesn’t even occur to me to pick up the phone. Silly me!

    • We all do it, Linda. Good to have a discussion about it to help us be more mindful. It happens especially for those of us who leave late night or early morning hours to review email. We can’t call at those times so we often keep the email conversation going instead. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Thank you for this Mary Jane. What I most identify with is the feeling of trying to compose a correct or “best” response. So often, there isn’t one, it’s true. And not only in cases like the one you describe, but in general. Any time I catch myself spending a lot of time revising and mulling over a written response, I stop to seriously consider responding another way, either by phone or in person—even if it might be a bit uncomfortable or awkward. And so often, I find that when I get on the phone or in front of the other person, I learn much more about a situation or a question. I realize what I would have missed out on—or delayed—by sticking to email.

    • Thank you, Dimitra, for this comment. It is so true and valuable for all of us to compare what we “receive” from real time conversations vs email. We do learn so much more and build the relationship. Great wisdom to share.


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