Setting the Tone

Heidi - New York, New York
Entered on January 19, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50

When my daughter Isabel first started playing with the two little girls next door, I heard her talking to them in a harsh voice, “That’s my wand. Don’t put that there.” I immediately told her not to talk like that, that it’s mean, but a few minutes later she was doing it again. Then I remembered something I had learned many years ago when I was a flight attendant— positive commands are the most effective. For example, in an emergency, if an airplane exit is blocked you wouldn’t shout, “Don’t come this way.” Instead you would say, “Turn around, go that way.” That’s a positive command. It let’s the person know exactly what to do, as opposed to what not to do. So I said, “Isabel, talk in a friendly voice.” And she did, and all three of them started having more fun. I didn’t just have to say it once, of course, but now, three years later, she’s six years old and it’s how she communicates.

I believe in the friendly voice. When I use a friendly voice I feel better, and people are nicer to me. Not a fake friendly voice, just one that conveys the understanding that we’re all in this together. When I have a problem that I need to resolve with a phone call, I try to begin the call in a friendly voice, even if I’m calling about something that’s made me really angry. I’ve found that the person on the other line will work harder to help me when I use a friendly voice than if I start out sounding irritated. You’ll find that when you use a friendly voice, it makes you feel more in control of the situation; and when you say something to someone in a friendly voice that they may not want to hear, it just doesn’t sound as bad.

I’ve found that when people speak to me in a friendly voice, it actually affects my mood. When the lady at the post office is nice, or when the bank teller has a positive inflection in his voice, I appreciate it. In fact, in my neighborhood I make a point of giving Mr. Ahn’s store my business because he possesses a delightfully friendly voice that makes me happy to see him. It’s not even what he says, “How are you? Thank you so much,” it’s the kindness with which he says it that makes me glad to support his business even when he’s not in the store.

It’s not always easy to remember to use a friendly voice. When you’re tired, or preoccupied, or angry, you don’t often think about your tone. But if you do, and you make an adjustment, it can actually lift your spirits. Recently when I was in a hurry and was using clipped, irritated sentences with my husband, he stopped me and said, “Hey, friendly voice.” We all need reminding.