My grandmother used to say, “If you cook with love, it tastes better.”  Modifying that slightly, I say, “If you speak with love, it sounds better.”

What am I getting at?

Tone.  The way a phrase, comment or question sounds is as important as its content.  Human communications expert and psychologist Albert Mehrabian pointed out that there are basically three parts to any face-to-face communication:


-tone of voice

-non-verbal behavior (such as facial expressions)

Tone Counts More Than the Words Themselves:  He also pointed out that the non-verbal parts of a communication convey the bulk of the message!  This means that if there’s incongruence or lack of similarity in meaning between what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, your listener will hear your non-verbal communication and discount the actual words!

Unhealthy Communications Patterns:  Perhaps you’ve had this experience yourself.  While speaking, perhaps you were surprised that the other person’s reaction was negative.  Perhaps he or she responded with anger.  Perhaps he or she snapped or quipped or were able to point out to you the incongruence between your tone and the content of your words.  This sort of unhealthy communication pattern is typical of high-conflict couples.

Becoming Aware of Your Tone:  Here’s a little exercise you can do right now.  Think of how many ways you can tell your partner that he or she has misunderstood what you said?  When you consider this question, chances are you can come up with more than one way to communicate the message.   If you can do this, you can take corrective action and improve your communication skills!

So Many Different Ways to Say It!  Perhaps you’ve got a “kind” way to tell your partner that you’ve been misunderstood.  Or you’ve come up with a gentle way that lets him or her know you’re not looking to blame.  Or, perhaps you do blame them for misunderstanding you and you’ve got a sarcastic way of communicating your distress.  Or, an angry way.  Or, a way that belittles your partner and makes him or her feel inadequate.

So Many Different Things to Think About!  When you begin to imagine all the different iterations or ways of telling your partner that you’ve been misunderstood, you can see how many moving parts of a simple communication you’ve got to work with.  There’s facial expression.  There’s tone.  There’s the language itself, and the choice of words.  There are other considerations as well, such as timing, context, and including self-reflective comments such as “I may have been confused myself, when telling you about .  .  .”

We Are All Participants:  The next time you get an angry or hurt reaction from your partner, consider all the moving parts and ask yourself whether something in your message—you tone, other non-verbal behaviors, or your choice of language itself—generated the reaction?  This is how you are a participant in the communication.  And it’s the key to recognizing what goes wrong, and correcting it.  You can apologize for your part, and ask for another chance at getting it right.

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