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At The Sound of Your Tone …

woman with shopping list

While rushing about doing weekend errands last Saturday, I received an important – and tear-filled – lesson on the power of tone of voice … all while choosing between green beans or kale!

What was the lesson? And why did it make me cry?

I’m a bit obsessed with fresh green vegetables. With several recipes in mind for the week’s meals, I was standing back from the various displays looking at current pricing and thinking, thinking, thinking. In front of me were two women. At first, I thought they were together. The older, tiny woman said something disparaging to the other woman, who smiled weakly and looked confused.

As I turned to my right to move further down the aisle, the older woman moved in front of me. She was less than five feet tall and using a cane. Without meaning to, I ended up directly behind her. My instinct told me she was uncomfortable, but I couldn’t adjust my stride quickly enough. Very clearly, without looking at me, she angrily said, “You don’t have to crawl right up my ass.”

Rather than ignore her remark, or respond in kind, I simply said, “I’m sorry.” And I meant it. It had not been my intent to crowd her space.

By this time, I’d arrived at the kale and she had moved on ahead of me. Still preoccupied with meal planning, I was surprised when she reappeared beside me. “I’m sorry,” she said.

I turned and we looked directly at each other. “No worries,” I replied. “I’m a bit confused this morning and I know I got in your way.”

“Yes,” she said, “but I shouldn’t have responded that way. I’m sorry. But you have no idea how many people cut me off and push me aside every day.”

Still looking at each other, I said, “I totally understand and there’s no need to apologize.” We both smiled then … big, warm happy smiles … and she moved on.

I cried as soon as I turned back to examine my vegetable choices. It took a lot of courage for her to return to my side and speak to me. She didn’t have to do it. And yet, the tone of my first apology drew her back, allowed us to connect and share a very poignant moment.

Too often, when I’m overwhelmed, rushed, stressed, tired, cranky (I could go on), I don’t take the necessary seconds to consider my tone of voice and this has me wondering … how many other lovely moments have I missed out on? How many times have I created miscommunication, not because of what I’ve said, but because of how I’ve said it?

When it comes to effective phone communication, our tone of voice is essential to success. The best way to know how we’re doing, and to improve, is to record ourselves … and listen. Is this uncomfortable? Absolutely. Is it valuable? Try it and find out!


8 thoughts on “At The Sound of Your Tone …”

  1. A wonderful description of kindness and compassion from two people who have had many difficult situations to deal with in life.

  2. Wonderful post, Mary Jane. I could picture you and hear your voice as you spoke to her with kindness. I know many seniors feel pushed aside and undervalued — and are probably cranky as a result. Thank you.

  3. I shared tears with you Mary Jane as I read your story. I’ve been there, done that, as they say. You are so correct when you mention the tone of our voice when communicating. You handled the situation so gracefully, I am glad it turned out well for the both of you. At least, in a person to person situation you can see the expression on the other person’s face. On the telephone it is so different. Keep the tone friendly and the response will usually be so too. Thanks for all your tips.

    • Thanks, Frieda. It was a very interesting moment, for sure. And her courage played a big role. I was amazed by her. I’ve been paying more attention to my tone of voice since this event.

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