Q. My wife objects to my tone of voice which she says sounds angry or harsh. She accuses me of yelling at her and the kids. I think I talk in a normal tone of voice even when we’re disagreeing. She gets angry about my tone of voice and then we have words and we both end up angry. Does tone of voice really matter? How can we solve this problem?
A. Tone of voice does matter. It’s really true that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” as Proverbs 15:1 tells us. A study was done years ago to discover how tone of voice affected men in the Navy being given orders. The results showed that the way a sailor was addressed largely determined the kind of response he gave. When a sailor was given an order in a soft voice he responded in a soft voice. When he was shouted at his answer was also sharp.
What we say and the way we say it affects the response we get and leads to either conflict or peace. The words that we say often give a mixed message due to our tone of voice. Our voice conveys a different message than the content. For example, it’s possible to say “Good morning!” in a tone of voice that let’s those around us know whether we’re happy, sad, tired or angry. Our voice can be mellow or harsh, sad or cheerful, tense or relaxed, serious or flippant, hostile or affectionate, gruff or warm, explosive or tender.
When your wife complains about your tone of voice you need to pay attention. This doesn’t mean you are wrong and your wife is right. She may be highly sensitized to tone of voice or yelling as a result, for example, having had a parent who yelled. Accept the fact that to your wife your voice sounds harsh or even frightening. Make a point of softening your voice. Choose a signal your partner can use to tell you when your voice is becoming loud or harsh.
Practice saying a phrase to your wife in a variety of voice tones while she identifies your mood. The phrase you use can be anything with neutral meaning - “Good Morning!” “Pass the salt” or “How was your day?” Then reverse this. This will help you both learn to tune into the underlying feelings in the other person. It will also help you learn that much of what we communicate is communicated non-verbally. Tone of voice matters.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1