Words, Body Language, & Tone of Voice 

One of my recent book purchases is Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies To Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy by Andrew Newburgh and Mark Robert Waldman. Besides using care in choosing words, the authors talk about listening more deeply, which reminded me of…


A Second Grade/Any Age Strategy for Listening

Listen Three Ways: With your ears, with your eyes, and with your mouth closed. Today that includes using eye contact, no cell phone checking, little or no background noise like TV, music, other conversations.The authors go into detail on the power of tone of voice in spoken words.

An Example of the Power of Tone of Voice

Childhood memory: How many of you heard “Don’t take that tone of voice with me, young lady.” I confess I secretly wanted to keep using that tone. But I was only 7 or 8. My pre-frontal cortex was not in full function mode. Even in my 20s and 30s a harsh tone got me in messy situations.

Think about this word. FINE. One word. Three different deliveries.

1. “Fine.” It was a weapon early in my marriage delivered with a sharp staccato crack like a rifle loaded with sarcasm. “Well, fine.” It was meant to be an ending to a conflicted conversation, like getting cut off at the knees, but often only served as an invitation to jump on the conflict escalator.

“Fine? Well, it’s sure not fine with me.” Volleyed back with a rapid fire quickness. No space for breath or change there. Postscript: My sweetie and I did collaborate on a list of “Rules for Fair Fighting” which included identifying and eliminating trigger words.

2. Then there’s “Fine.” Drawn out, that one syllable Fiiiine! Wreathed in a big smile, after taking a taste of my friend Joe’s special roast beef. A winner!

3. And… “Fine.” A neutral delivery, almost a monotone, but accompanied by a nod and a wise look when reading over a draft of a colleague’s essay. Thumbs up, for sure.

What’s the Gift of Your Stroke?

Yes, having a stroke 18 months ago has given me an increased awareness of communication techniques. Helpful enough to be considered a gift. When I couldn’t find a word in my mental files that actually said what I meant I began watching people more carefully and using more expressive gestures and facial expressions to “speak.” Deeper listening. My stroke certainly changed my brain. It’s still changing every day as I practice new strategies. I find I am more at ease and better skilled with FaceTime and Zoom than I am with telephone conversations. Those visual clues help.

What’s the Message with These Photos?

As writers were told, “Show, don’t tell.” For me now, it’s a Show and Tell. Often it seems I’m creating a composite of the 12 strategies. It works.

Got any tips for using words more effectively? Let me know.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.