Have you ever seen someone disciplining a kid? Or maybe you’ve had to talk to a kid about something? You might have noticed that the moment your tone changes, they’re almost always aware of what will follow — treats, rewards, scolding, or even punishment. Kids are incredibly good at picking up on your tone of voice, far better than adults.
But let’s go back for a second. What is your tone of voice? Simply put, it’s the way you say something. Whether it’s an offer or a rejection, a request or a demand, your tone of voice impacts others and yourself more than you can imagine. For example, you could unwittingly criticize your child or your partner if you don’t take a moment to check your tone. Sometimes, this could be stress-related, where you’re displacing frustrations. Other times, this could be a reflection of how you truly view the other person deep inside. Often, it’s not what you say but how you say it that hurts people.
We often unknowingly employ tone of voice to get what we want. Think about the last time you were charming, sweet, or personable to get something you wanted from an otherwise closed-off person? Or in reverse, when you indicated through an icy or detached tone of voice that you didn’t care? Being aware of your tone of voice can help you be more sensitive, more patient, more understanding, softer or stronger in what you’re trying to convey.
Along with tone of voice, Robert discusses the dangers of selectively hearing what you want and projecting your hearings/desires onto someone else. This can either lead people into a state of openness or resistance. Awareness of tone of voice and its impact can prevent hurt, misunderstanding, and other injurious situations.
Although therapy is a neutral space, Robert shares how his tone of voice has been the best, most direct, and loving way to touch his clients’ hearts. At the same time, to prevent countertransference (projection of unresolved conflicts), he has developed an evolving awareness of his tone of voice, while acknowledging areas that he needs to continue to watch. When you take some time to reflect on your chosen tones of voice, you will notice that they are similar to some core essential qualities that can help you through challenging situations.
Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 45.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
I have found that being interactive with clients with tone of voice has been the fastest, most directly loving way to touch their heart.
The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity, to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book, “Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges,” to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.
Robert Strock: (01:01)
Welcome again, to Awareness That Heals where we’re doing our very best to bring our heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges today, we’re going to bring in a completely new and mind-blowingly simple part of life, but it’s so often overlooked. And it really does disorient me that it’s not part or a key part of the field of psychology. And it’s also not a key part in religion or spirituality. Kids seem to be able to practice this more easily than adults. And it is really looking at being with, dealing with, our tone of voice. First becoming aware of our own, which is a lifelong practice. As awareness comes and goes for virtually all of us, then learning to identify the most frequent tones inside us and that we express that create the most suffering and also the tones that create the most healing, then doing our best to learn, to listen to others and how to be more skilled in our responses through our times. And as we get into the story, before we get into this, I’d like to introduce my dear, dear friend, Dave, and my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.
Thank you. Uh, this particular subject is one that I have spent a good deal of time working on both, uh, not reacting, uh, to other’s tones and also, uh, coming more and more aware that I’ve got a lot of things coming from me that, uh, have tones I’m unaware of. And so I’m, uh, looking very much forward, uh, to these episodes.
Robert Strock: (03:08)
Thank you for that. I am too. One of the places that tone of voice really has been dynamic for me for the last 50 years is in dealing with clients. And I was pretty much the last 40 years giving a heads up that if, would you, will you be somebody that will care if I interrupt you? If I notice that you’re in a tone of voice that I think you’re unaware of that you might be criticizing your wife, your husband, your kid, yourself. And I might ask you, is that the tone of voice that you really want to use? You know, is that something that really is going to make sense to you now, as the years passed, when I would meet somebody briefly on the telephone, I would, I would up the ante to, I might very well do this in the first sentence that you start, and I need to know whether you’re okay with that because the content isn’t what we’re here for.
Robert Strock: (04:26)
We’re here to try to support your quality of life. And if you’re putting out an energy, uh, that, that you’re not aware of, that I can see as hurtful. I want to know if I have permission. Now that narrows the scope of clients that I was seeing from an earlier, from a pretty early age, because there were quite a few people that said, okay, okay. But I could tell from their okay it was like, uh, I might, I might do one session. I might do no sessions. Yeah. So, I have found that being interactive with clients with tone of voice has been the fastest, most directly loving way to touch their heart. Now, when I do that, I have to really be aware of my own tone of voice. And if my own tone of voice has any impatience, any insensitivity, then I absolutely am off.
Robert Strock: (05:30)
And I, I know I need to be silent and it became clear and clear through the failures of the first five years or so that I might be having a tone of being an expert, right. I’ve be having a tone of being serious, or I may have a tone of being slightly impatient or slightly intolerant. And those situations always ended up being a little bit more like debate rather than really going to what you might call a kind of a tone matching. Because my experience was that if my tone was really caring and warm and inviting, I almost couldn’t say anything that would really be offensive to anyone, even though what I was saying could be very offensive to someone if I was to have just even a neutral tone. So, this is particularly important, uh, for therapists that are not practicing a kind of therapy where they’re just routinely even an analytical and they’re going out of their way to doing a different kind of therapy, which is probably almost half the therapeutic world where, you know, the intention is to be neutral.
Robert Strock: (06:52)
The attention is not to lead somebody anywhere. The intention is to just have them reflect. The intention is to be careful of not creating countertransference. So, in that sense, I understand, and I, I want to give an acknowledgement to a different approach, but I’m really talking to the therapists that actually are more let’s, let’s say have more range of tones that they use, and they can see the importance, especially when you’re dealing with severe vulnerabilities of having a tenderness of, of having a depth of kindness. Or, if you’re dealing with somebody that’s very narcissistic, you might see the necessity to be quite strong and a kind of strength that is not angry or mean, but is strong that it has an element of softness in the strength. So this is a true artform. And I think it’s a good beginning point. Now staying with the beginning of this, the insight to this tone of voice came when I was volunteering at the Foundation for the Junior Blind.
Robert Strock: (08:07)
And when, when I was there, I was told you can run any kind of class you want. And I was 19 and so I said, okay, well, I’ll gather these people that are all legally blind. And I said to them, my opening line was, you know what, you guys obviously can’t see, but I’ll bet you, your tone of voice is even more sensitive than the average person. So, you could probably gain the advantage by paying really close attention to your tone of voice in a way that will give you another sense that your sight that your sight isn’t able to get. And so, we started with using the word, hi, we, and we, I, you know, the first instructions were, say the word hi and have it be scary, scared, say the word hi and have it be angry, say the word hi and have it be insecure, say the word hi and have it be withdrawn and see the power of that.
Robert Strock: (09:11)
And so, the first week’s homework was to bring that home and just to experiment with one sentence a couple of times, and have it be said with one tone of voice, and then have it being said with a tone of voice that was more caring and come back the next week and report the responses. And it was fascinating to see how impactful it was. Yeah, the 80% of the kids came back and they had things to report and many of them did it more than once. And they were reliably saying when I said it in a more caring way, I got a more caring response back. And so, it was obviously a master key for how do you get along in the world? And your tone of voice is from my vantage point, even slightly more important than what you say. And most of us, as we grow up, we lose the importance of that tone of voice.
I just want to say, uh, amplify, what you just said, because I know in so many circumstances, uh, in my, in my business life, uh, the, the tone, even without awareness, but the tone I’ll use, if I’m trying to get something from a circumstance, uh, if I’m going in and trying to get a building permit, uh, the tone I’m using, the, the, the, the, all, all the things about it are different. For instance, if I’m doing that versus, uh, setting a boundary with a teenager, maybe my teenager. And so, these things are happening, whether aware, aware of it or not for all of us, all the time in my experience.
Robert Strock: (11:01)
Yeah. If we stay with your current life, the tone that I think you’re you’re the best at is when you’re dealing with medical professionals. And you’re trying to get people to visit in the hospital rooms where you’re trying to get doctors to cooperate or, or medical staff to cooperate, and your, your sensitivity and kindness and reflection and personableness in the way that your tone comes through is able to get you in doors that is really something that I wish everyone has the lens on it that I have. And I know everyone that knows you well, has been cared for by [inaudible] have, have seen what, what an ass it is. And that’s in addition to your medical knowledge, but really it’s, it’s the tone that really opens a lot, awful lot of doors.
It’s thank you for that. And I, and I believe most of the time that’s true. And there are other times where I would have to say, I have to be, uh, the kind of assertive consciously, uh, that, uh, can knock a door down, if a door that should be open in my view, at least is in the way.
Robert Strock: (12:08)
Yep. Yeah, no doubt it, the strength and the kindness and warmth are of equal importance. And they change depending on the situation, you know, one calls for one, another, one calls for the other. So, continuing with, with a story of the Foundation for the Junior Blind, the, the kids as the class progressed, really had fun role-playing with each other. And we talked about it from friendships and how, how they treated friends. And it was fun and funny because it was mind blowing to them that they could evoke such different reactions with just the intonation. And I pointed out to them that it was also important that we weren’t just role-play. It was actually looking to see when they really needed something they needed to find the need. So, it had to do with the intention to be kinder or the intention to be stronger. And so, they had to find that, or they got to find that, that intention.
Robert Strock: (13:25)
So, it’s so important for all of us to see if kids that are, you know, are starting off with the handicap of blindness and also having the blessing as it relates to tone of voice, of greater sensitivity and capacity for tone of voice, with blindness that all of us can use this as a vehicle in every aspect of our lives. So I would ask you to reflect right now, whether or not you’re someone that’s had fleeting awareness of this, had a lot of awareness of this, and whether the awareness itself has led to a pausing or as Dave reflected last episode, you know, think before you speak, it’s like how many times has that awareness actually led to a shifted tone of voice? Because all of the same qualities that we refer to and all the challenging emotions that we refer to in the Introspective Guides at awarenessthatheals.org that really helps you become more literate.
Robert Strock: (14:36)
They’re all the same thing as tones of voice, that we can express a challenging tone of voice. That just, as we say, it, it’s a challenging feeling, it’s also a challenging tone of voice. Or if we’re looking at a quality, we’re looking at expressing a quality that, that can be expressed through a tone of voice at all as well. So, it’s still very, very helpful to use those charts. If you’re not aware of what your most challenging tones of voice are. So, take a look first glance, we’ll be doing more of this as we go along, but what would you say is your number one most challenging tone of voice that you use? Probably unwittingly probably mostly unconsciously that doesn’t serve your life, is challenging that creates conflict. And if you look at it closely, you might even think, oh my God, how could I’ve used this tone of voice for so many decades and not see that leads to a dead end or a power struggle or a conflict. And do I have any idea what other kinds of tone of voice I could use that will allow me to have breakthroughs, have connections, have a different relationship to myself.
Two other areas, uh, I’d like to highlight and get your feel for one is, uh, the area of, of theater and acting. And I want to reflect back, uh, to a story. I actually read about my grandfather, who defected from Russia, uh, at a time when Jews were being persecuted in the 1920s, and he came to America and he spoke no English, but he, he stayed actually there’s more to that story. He did abandon his family for a period of time. So, he was no full hero, but he stayed here and he, he managed to find work because of his studies with, uh, Stanislavski, who is a famous director and teacher of acting. And he wasn’t able to speak English. And it was all with tone that he was able to communicate. At first, it was Shakespeare with tones only. And then the second thing, I’d like your input on. And I’ve, I know you’ve done a lot of traveling as have I, is when I’m in a country where I don’t know the language in a way it’s like, I’m like your story at the Foundation for the Junior Blind, but with a different sense, limited, I don’t understand the language. I mean, yes, some countries, maybe I understand some words, but I’ve been in countries. I, I Greece, Russia, et cetera, uh, that I have no clue, but, um, I’m getting the message.
Robert Strock: (17:32)
So, the first thing is that related to actors, it’s like, if you’re not, if you’re a Meryl Streep or an Anthony Hopkins, I think you could, I think you could fool me every time. There, there are a few, there are a small percentage of professional actors that usually have learned from the method that they need to return to the times of their own lives, where they had the experience that evoke the feelings. And so, they, they teach themselves to actually find the feelings and the same intentions and maybe the intentions isn’t as conscious, but it’s usually part of it. It might be more like what I wanted would be probably more the way it would be said. And so, the greatest and greatest of actors could fool people with tone, but I would say 90, 95% of actors would sound like a bit of a performance.
Robert Strock: (18:37)
And if you sense, and you really listen closely, actors have an element of performance, which makes them not the very top of their craft. The very top of their craft are able to generate the same feeling and vibration. And I, I would say confidently, having had a lot of actors in my profession, that those actors are the ones that really have a tremendous amount of life experience, and they have a depth. So, they have a wealth of experience to feed from, and they can portray that. And then for the second, uh, question, as it relates to another country, I was focusing more on, uh, what, what attitude is needed from being a visitor to convey something that would make the, um, the person familiar, the country receptive. It’s almost always a humility, a sincerity, a needing, a wanting, and that’s a universal principle. It’s like, it’s like laughter or it’s like music, where, where tone is one of the most universal principles.
Robert Strock: (20:03)
And so, yes, telepathically, if you just went to a country and you went, hmmm, they would generally, besides my inability to sing, they would generally, if, if it was really harmonious, they would generally connect to a good vibe. And if your vibe is a little bit nasty or a little bit irritated, they’re going to turn away. So, it’s one of the real proofs of why tone is so impactful. And it’s one of the real tragedies, if you look at political history and how rarely leaders of countries do what we’re talking about when you visit another country, where they’re speaking of another country with humility, with a wanting to connect with a sincerity. And of course we’re a bit better, but usually over the top when we’re dealing with a alienating country or an enemy of setting boundaries, but usually it has an element of anger or threat or John Wayne, you know, in there to just be a bit macho.
Robert Strock: (21:26)
And that’s usually seen by the population as, yeah, he’s got, he’s got guts, he’s defending our country. And the combination of being able to have that humility and have that balanced strength would be so amazing in terms of uniting our world. It’s one of the keys to our political leaders. Being able to really start to see, you know, what, we aren’t greater than you. We’re not here to prove that we’re greater than you, we’re here because we’re part of the human race. Now, unfortunately in most cases, that’s not even a popular theory, not sending in a popular theory for the politician and they’d probably lose. They would lose if that was their take, but at least to a half extent to bring that in. Well, let’s say the country needs to identify with being superior to other countries in so many people, but you can still have a uniting tone.
Robert Strock: (22:36)
You can still have a strength that has some dignity and the great leaders of the past of which there are not that many great leaders of the past, are ones that really had that ability to have a tone that was universally appealing, both on the humble end and on the strength. Then it’s important to be aware of some of the tip-offs of ways that we lead people into a state of resistance, into what we think is an invitation to love, which is being received as a, let’s say, a demand to perform or demand to be responsive when I don’t feel it, feel like it. And so, as we’re looking at tone and intention, it’s like the intention needs to be something that ideally is mutual, especially if it involves another person. So, it might instead, instead of hi sweetie, it might be something a bit more direct, like, um, so what’s your mood like, you know, or are you feeling open, um, or something that gives her the dignity to say, no, I’ve got a headache or, or something along that line.
Robert Strock: (23:56)
So, it’s very, very important with tone of voice, to have personal awareness of our own intention, awareness of our own tendency to project, and also listening carefully to the tone of voice we’re receiving and when they don’t match, that’s going to be something we’ll be dealing with in future episodes as to how, how we’re going to deal with that. So, I think as we end this just leaving with where is my tone of voice, likely to be most frequent, where I’m unconscious, and what’s the one that I want to give myself a reminder to really see clearly, and then down the line we’ll be dealing with what would be the ideal replacement. So, wishing and hoping that you find it intriguing to see another avenue that you can really have access to changing your quality of life, because it’s not only changing the response it’s changing your own internal experience when you’re leading with your own intention. And the, the quality and the tone of your voice has more harmony or more sensitivity, more caring than it might otherwise have. So, thanks for your attention, thank you for listening and hoping that you take this away with you and just don’t leave it here at the podcast.
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