Without some context, the written words fail to convey any sure sense of the meaning behind the words. Did the person who is quoted really mean the sentiment of the words or was he or she flippantly offering an apology just to settle an issue?
But, when we hear those words spoken we immediately understand the meaning and the sincerity or lack thereof. We know what the person means by the way he or she says it—the tone of voice. Tone of voice is an important quality that makes a difference to how people hear you. Here are four more qualities that help you be better understood:
Inflection is also an important voice attribute. Try this: Speak to a group for a couple of minutes in a flat monotone, no inflection at all. It will become painfully obvious that without inflection no one will listen for very long. Inflection keeps the sound of your voice interesting, and it allows you to stress words that carry more importance. Inflection, like tone of voice, is critical to voice communications.
Pronunciation matters as well. When we mispronounce a word, the listener’s focus turns to the mispronunciation rather than the message we are trying to convey. Commonly mispronounced words as identified at alphadictionary.com include: arctic (artic), candidate (cannidate), espresso (expresso), isn’t (idn’t), jewelry (jewlery), nuclear (nucular), and perspire (prespire).
Speed will get you every time, especially on a telelphone where a listener doesn’t have any visual cues to help interpret what you are saying. Slow down to be better understood.
Accent also can be problematic. It’s not just for people who speak English as a second language, accent is also noticeable in different parts of the United States. When speaking English when it’s not your native tongue or with someone outside your general geographic region, slow down and take care to enunciate as best you can.
Want to be really misunderstood? Combine speed with accent and you have a formula for really being unintelligible. The other night, my wife and I were watching a British import on TV and got hung up on an actor’s line. After replaying it several times, and doing our best to lip read, we finally turned on the Closed Captioning. Never would have guessed the fast-spoken phrase in a million years.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."