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How's Your Tone?

When I was a child, my mother often told me, "It's not what you say; it's how you say it." That's why, after watching Jerry Seinfeld in his comedy act talk about how the tone of your voice can be perceived differently by many people, I realized that regardless of age or level in academia, this is still an important issue that often creates problems within departments and relationships.

In previous blog posts, I have discussed the concept of "professional grace" (here's a link for reference). Professional grace entails showing kindness and consideration towards others, which is crucial for maintaining and facilitating academic collaboration. So, if you’re still wondering if negative communication works, the answer is “no”. Communicating negatively will never help you achieve your desired results. If you're unsure about this, consider how you react to an email or conversation when someone is upset with you. No one responds well to harsh words, whether spoken or written.

Even though most of us have been trained to consider our tone in a "normal" conversation, the challenge is keeping a civil and neutral tone when disagreeing with a colleague or superior.

Here are my five tips to "watch your tone" and communicate effectively.

1) Monitor your vocal tone: Be aware of your tone when you are speaking. Focus on keeping a neutral, calm tone. It is okay to show positive emotions like excitement, enthusiasm, or happiness in your voice. However, if you are feeling angry, frustrated, or agitated, work to keep those emotions out of your voice. One way to do this is to take a deep breath and pause before responding. This can help you maintain a neutral tone, even in challenging situations. 

So, how do you navigate written communication and ensure that what you write communicates what you mean?

2. Consider the emotion you want to express. In today's academic environment, written communication is primarily conducted through methods like email, text, and social media, which have become widespread. Like spoken communication, avoid conveying anger, disappointment, or other negative emotions in writing. The key to effective written communication is to be clear and concise. If you feel negative while writing, ensure those emotions don't appear in your written words. If you are upset, step away from the email or text and take a break before you begin writing. If possible, let the communication sit for a day or two before sending it.  

Communicating when upset, angry, or using an inappropriate tone, such as one that is too harsh or confrontational, can lead to misunderstandings, damaged relationships, and even professional repercussions.

3. Proofread your communication. Although it may not be enjoyable, it is necessary. One way to do this is to read your message out loud so you hear the tone of your writing and identify any areas where you may be unintentionally conveying a negative emotion. 

4. Use emojis (or emoticons) to convey the emotion of your writing. Emojis can add a touch of humor 😂 and communicate the positive feeling you want to express. For example, a smiley face can indicate friendliness, while a thumbs up can show agreement. While emojis are unsuitable for formal writing, they are widely accepted in emails, texts, and social media, which are now essential forms of communication in higher education.

5. Consider your audience when communicating. While we usually know the people we are communicating with and share the same cultural background, it is essential to be mindful when communicating with international or unfamiliar groups. It's crucial to be aware of what may be considered offensive or rude in their culture and avoid such behavior. This cultural sensitivity is significant in higher education, where we often interact with diverse groups. Understanding your audience and what they consider appropriate, whether one person or a larger group, will help you communicate effectively.

To progress in academia and life, it's important to carefully consider the tone you use in all your verbal or written communications. Neglecting to pay attention to your tone can lead to misunderstandings, embarrassment, and the need to apologize for offending. It's crucial to understand your audience, maintain a neutral and calm tone when speaking, and take time to review and edit your written work. Additionally, consider using emojis to add clarity and positivity to your writing.👍

** Seinfeld clip - (



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