Familius.com Shop

A family of a father, mother, and two kids talking in the living room.

How to Prevent Arguments by Changing Your Tone of Voice

It’s not what you say but how you say it. Your tone of voice can have just as big of an impact in preventing arguments as the words you use.

My whole life, my mom ingrained in me that “it’s not always what you say but how you say it.” With the wrong tone of voice, otherwise ordinary words can become the spark that lights an argument.

Similarly, by simply changing your tone of voice, you can not only stop an argument but even prevent one.

Why Tone of Voice Matters

In English, you can change the entire meaning of a sentence just by emphasizing a different word. For example, try emphasizing each word in this sentence individually:

“I never said she stole my money.”

It has seven words and, subsequently, seven different connotations depending on how we change the tone of our voices.

This idea also applies to daily conversations. If we’re not careful about how we’re saying ordinary sentences like the one above, we could end up conveying an entirely different meaning than we intended. This can affect your conversations, and lead to an argument, in more ways than one:

Emotional Impact

Tone of voice carries emotional cues that can either escalate or de-escalate a situation. A harsh or confrontational tone can trigger defensiveness and escalate tension, while a calm and respectful tone can diffuse tension and encourage a more constructive dialogue.

Perceived Intentions

People often interpret tone of voice as indicative of the speaker’s intentions. A sarcastic or aggressive tone may be perceived as hostile, making the other person more likely to respond defensively or aggressively themselves. Conversely, a warm and empathetic tone can convey genuine concern and openness to understanding, which can help prevent arguments.

Communication Effectiveness

Tone of voice can also influence how well a message is received and understood. A clear and respectful tone enhances communication by making it easier for the other person to listen attentively and consider different perspectives. On the other hand, a negative or dismissive tone can lead to misinterpretation and further conflict.

Relationship Dynamics

Consistently using an aggressive or disrespectful tone of voice, even rarely and unintentionally, can erode trust and goodwill, damaging a relationship over time. Conversely, employing a supportive and respectful tone fosters trust and strengthens relationships, making it easier to resolve conflicts and prevent arguments.

How to Improve Your Tone of Voice

Unless attending a meeting, discussing a sensitive topic, or telling a joke, most people don’t think about how they are speaking. This lack of tonal awareness in daily conversation, while seemingly inconsequential, can lead to arguments and, later, deeper relationship issues. If you want to prevent these problems and improve your tone of voice, consider these questions:

Are You Listening?

When emotions get the better of us, one of the first things to go is our awareness. Make sure you stay grounded in the situation. Actively listen to others when they speak, focusing not only on their words but also on their tone of voice and body language. This can help you develop empathy and better understand how others interpret your own tone. When you notice that your tone is negatively impacting someone else, try adjusting it. Mirroring the tone and pace of your speaking partner or modulating your own tone to be more supportive and empathetic can build a deeper bond. Which, of course, makes for a better conversation

How Loudly Are You Speaking?

Excitement, frustration, anger, fear—all of these emotions can make someone unintentionally raise their voice. However, whatever the emotion, loudness often translates as anger and aggression to the listener, no matter how unintended or harmless it is. And in turn, the listener might end up mirroring that tone of voice until what started as a peaceful conversation devolves into a shouting match. So pay attention to your volume. Is it appropriate for the situation? Is it making the other person feel defensive? And most importantly, consider, why are you raising your own voice?

Are You Aware of Your Own Emotions?

Before responding in a conversation, take a moment to pause and reflect on your own emotions and intentions. Ask yourself if your tone of voice aligns with the message you want to convey and the outcome you hope to achieve. If you notice yourself becoming agitated or defensive, take a deep breath and consciously choose a more calm and respectful tone.

How Fast Are You Talking?

Similar to volume, a fast pace can increase the urgency and tension of a conversation. While this might be a good thing when you’re excited and you want your friends and family to match your energy, it’s not such a good thing when the situation is more serious. Just think of someone rushing into the room to tell you, rapid-fire, about how your child was in an accident, not even giving you time to catch your breath. What would you do? Panic, most likely. Increasing tension in an emotionally charged situation can be stressful, so be sure to moderate your pace to clearly express what you need to depending on the situation.

Are You Clearly Expressing Yourself?

When people don’t feel heard, they often resort to a more aggressive tone of voice, not realizing that they haven’t clearly expressed themselves in the first place. Raising your voice, increasing your pace, or making snide remarks won’t make anyone hear more clearly. Instead, when you find yourself getting frustrated in a conversation, reflect on how clearly you’ve communicated. And even if you think you were clear, it won’t hurt to try again. Assertive communication involves expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs in a direct and respectful manner, such as using “I” statements and active listening, to communicate effectively without resorting to aggressive or passive-aggressive tones.

Are You Using Positive Language?

Tone of voice is essentially how the volume, pacing, and fluctuation of your voice changes the connotation of your words. And paying attention to all of that can go a long way toward preventing arguments. However, no matter what you do, tone of voice can’t save you if you’re directly insulting others. The connotations of the words themselves also play a part in how others perceive tone. So choose words and phrases that convey positivity and respect, even in difficult or challenging situations. Avoid using accusatory or inflammatory language that can escalate tensions and provoke conflict. Instead, focus on expressing yourself clearly and assertively while maintaining a friendly and cooperative tone.

Of course, sometimes it really is what you say. But that’s a whole other topic.

Communicate More Effectively Using These Strategies

The cover of the book Intentional Conversations.

Intentional Conversations

The cover of the book How to Hug a Hedgehog.

How to Hug a Hedgehog

The cover of the book Want a Hug? by Christine Babinec.

Want a Hug?

Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.

Scroll to Top