It's not what you say, it's how you say it

“Derek, I need to share something with you. I think I know your heart and I don’t think you mean to do this, but...when you talk to people, it can come across very sharp. And sometimes, it hurts people’s feelings.”

I sat there, under the weight of what my friend, Danny, just revealed to me. 

“Really? Sharp?” I replied. 

I was totally oblivious to how I was coming across because the previous 6 years of my life, I was rewarded for that type of communication in the athletic arena. 

But here I was, not playing sports anymore (because you have to be REALLY good when you’re only 5’7”), and I needed to figure out how to talk to people again

So weird to type that. But it was true.

Over the next several weeks, I began to notice how I was coming across. A friend would say something, and my response would come out like a pairing knife. 

Ouch...I did it again.

I found myself apologizing. A lot. 

My friend Danny was right. I didn’t mean to be hurtful. I was never trying to be hurtful. But I was blind and I needed someone to speak truth to me

I’ve heard this a lot, and I’m sure you’ve heard it a lot as well...

“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

And it’s SO true.

No matter what kind of relationship it is, your tone of voice when communicating can change the atmosphere of the room. Whether it’s in conflict or a normal conversation, your tone can be helpful or it can be hurtful. 

We know that when communicating face to face, a lot of what is perceived by the listener comes from nonverbal activity on the part of the speaker. Body language and tone of voice reveal more of your intent than you might realize.

For this reason, I try not to cross my arms when talking with someone (even though that’s very comfortable for me). I lean forward when sitting at a table. I try to present myself as “open” when communicating. 

For the most part, I think we have a good understanding of how to treat our professional contacts. Whether that’s with clients, coworkers or bosses, we understand the importance of how we come across when we communicate. But when we get around our friends and family, we let our guard down and don’t think as much about how we’re coming across.

Letting your guard down is good. We should do that! But I would encourage us all to be far more mindful of how we come across when we’re communicating with people, no matter how close they are to us. 

What about you? What have you found to be helpful in conversation? What sort of conversation "blunders" have you committed that you wish you could undo? Leave a comment below!