Updated: Feb 3, 2021
My name is Diamando and I have a tone of voice problem. I've said it. I've tried to change it. I've come a long way. I've accepted that in some sense, it will always be a part of me.
It's often funny to me when people point out their frustration with the way I say things; not because they are inaccurate, but because I have even more people who tell me on a regular basis just how much they love my voice. To them, it's soothing and calming. People often request that I record sleep stories for them, and my recorded meditations are widely appreciated. How is it possible that my voice can hold both so much positivity and negativity?
This is a question I have asked myself a lot over the course of my lifetime. What is it that makes one aspect come out instead of the other? How am I filled with such totally different qualities, each as powerful as the other? What is the "real" me?
The harsh truth, when I'm forced to look at it, is that both of these things are equally true. My voice can heal just as easily as it can harm. It is entirely within my control to decide which side I will dive into at any given moment.
What happens though, when it feels like it is totally out of my control? This happened to me a couple of weeks ago with a close friend of mine. We were discussing a health issue of hers, and I immediately jumped into savior mode. I had a lot of experience with this particular issue, and I felt like she needed to hear my expertise. Nope, I'm not a doctor, but I often play one with my friends- and this is NOT a good quality. Just because I have experience with something, it doesn't mean that my experience is the most important perspective.
I've spent a lifetime devoted to the idea that each person is a unique individual and we all can learn immeasurable things merely by listening to one another and collaborating in our collective growth. Yet I often lose sight of this when I get passionate or excited about something. I have a one-track mind and I come barreling through like a bull in a china shop.
Side note, I've always really liked this idiom. It makes me giggle to think of this innocent bull just doing his own thing and suddenly confronted with the reality that he has no choice but to keep walking and knock everything over. He just can't fit through. He might not even realize what he's doing because it's not his fault he's a bull. He has no control over his size or movements; he's just being.
Humans, on the other hand, have the distinct difference of having developed cognitive thought and verbal communication skills. I can't pretend to be an oblivious bull, just being myself and paying no mind to the destruction I'm causing around me. Even if that destruction is coming from a place of caring and compassion, if the other person isn't perceiving it that way, it is neither caring nor compassionate.
This is where tone of voice comes in.
I can't exactly pinpoint the first moment someone told me that my tone was unacceptable or harsh or demanding or offensive. It has been a running theme throughout my life. I used to blame it on being the child of an immigrant. I had to learn to speak clearly and efficiently and with authority in order to get my father to understand me. That may have been the genesis of my issue, but it certainly isn't why it keeps creeping up.
I will say that I have worked diligently over the last twenty years on making improvements in this area. While working in hospitality, I learned that if I raised my voice an octave and smiled, I could say the same things in basically the same way and have a totally different outcome. This got me through a lot of potentially hairy situations, and ones I knew would have been much hairier if I had been using my natural cadence and tone.
This tactic worked really well for me for a while. Then I decided that the only reason it was working was because I was making myself, as a woman, appear to be less authoritative than I actually knew myself to be. I wasn't interested in perpetuating the belief system that women should somehow be more docile than their male counterparts. That seemed like total crap to me, so I slowly let that facade slip away.
As I did, I realized that I was getting comments about my tone of voice more frequently. Uh oh. What was I going to do now? I had to find a way to communicate my passions and achieve my desired intentions without making people dislike me.
I truly admire people who don't care if someone likes them or not. I'm not one of those people. People might suggest that if I felt better about myself, I wouldn't care about other peoples' opinions. Frankly, I think that's pointedly untrue.
I feel great about myself most of the time. I'm proud of who I am and all I've accomplished. I accept that I have a lot to offer the world. I also recognize that I won't be able to offer nearly as much of what I possess if I turn people off before they get a chance to know me. Call it insecurity; call it hyper-security; call it whatever you want. I call it growth.
When I'm faced with a new and challenging situation, I often revert to the version of myself who has a tone of voice problem. In the old days, it would have taken me a long time to recognize this. It would have taken multiple people giving me the same feedback over a short period of time for it to sink in that maybe they were right. Now, it takes one conversation and I'm on top of it.
When my friend pointed out that I was basically acting like a know-it-all, I didn't want to believe her; but I took a deep breath and listened. Then she said the magic words. "It's your tone of voice." I started to shut down. Oh god, I thought; not this again. I thought we were done with this, Diamando. I started to beat myself up. I sat in her kitchen and listened to her telling me that sometimes I act like I'm an expert on everything and it's really annoying. My mind darted back and forth between self-loathing and self-flagellation. It wasn't a long trip between those two destinations, so I hit both points repeatedly in a short amount of time.
At one point, I realized my eyes were closed. I was completely inside myself. I forced myself to open my eyes and look at her. She was in pain. She was suffering. In my effort to help her, I had increased her discomfort and confusion. I was not being helpful. What could I do to turn the situation around? I took another deep breath and then a long, slow exhalation. When I next opened my mouth to speak, I knew immediately that things had changed inside of me.
Instead of offering solutions (something I think it a special skill of mine, but clearly one that needs to be offered only in the correct moments), I asked questions. I could hear my meditation voice coming out. I could feel the positive energy being generated from my diaphragm and traveling across her kitchen island over to her where she stood at her sink. Instead of being a crisis manager, I was being her friend- and that was what she needed in that moment.
When I went home that day, I thought about how important this realization could be to my future relationships. I thought about the cliché of being able to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I thought about treating all relationships as friendships- because that's what they are. Whether in business, in love, with family, or with actual friends and acquaintances; I perform better when I come from a place of empathy and compassion. There is a time for problem-solving and a time for listening. It's impossible to know which time it is if you aren't really hearing the other person.
There is also a big difference between listening and hearing, and I think I am only now truly starting to grasp the significance of this difference. When you listen, you interrupt and offer guidance (often mis-guidance); but when you truly hear someone, you give yourself, and them, time to breathe. There is so much power to be garnered in those simple moments of breath and pause.
Stay tuned for future sub-articles in which I go over some strategies and tactics for handling situations like the one I've discussed above. As always, if you want to talk anything out- I'm here.