Emotional and Personality Based Vocal Tones

by Cyndilu Miller on March 25, 2016


Is it tone? or is it personality? Knowing the difference could save your relationship…

Sometimes voice tone is a direct response to the conversation and the words that are being spoken. Other times it is a result of being excited not because of the subject matter but just simply cause the person’s personality is in a heightened state most of the time. There are people who are almost always laughing… it is not that they are laughing at you or that they are not feeling down or even fearful… they may be feeling those things yet still laugh. How can this be you ask? Well they are built to laugh. Simple. Even if misunderstood at times. Learning to allow others to live in their bold self is a skill that can be learned and improved.

I don’t know if you have ever gone to a baseball game (I imagine rugby may be a bit the same – though as of yet I have not gone to a game – one day soon!) anyway, you are at the game and there are some people getting irate and yelling loudly. There are others that are getting excited and yelling loudly too. It is the slight change in tone that let’s you know if they are irate or just excited. However, sometimes it can sound the same to an untrained or newly awakened listener. There are others at the game that are sitting there quietly watching the game and not making a move or a sound throughout the whole game. And you know what ALL of them are likely enjoying the game equally too. Some might look and think that really the only person truly enjoying the game is the one that is loudly excited. That is just not the truth. We are all different and we all express ourselves, our emotions, our joys, even our sorrows differently. And…guess what!? They are all proper! They are all right. Why can I say that? Because they are being.

Having skills to encourage the communication to stay open can also be a lifesaver in any relationship. So now that we have discussed a bit about vocal tones I want to share with you 15 tones that may throw tension into a conversation. Some of these could be personality based all of them could also be due to emotions. Knowing the difference is key to good communication.

brittle (adj): if you speak in a brittle voice, you sound as if you are about to cry (1)
This is one that I know I have definitely spoken in and usually for me it was indeed that I was about to cry – this voice I have found for myself anyway has been used when I am attempting to keep from crying as the person who I am speaking to has shown or I am fearing will show disdain for me showing or having emotions. If someone is speaking in a brittle voice and you are the listener – ask them for permission to give them a hug – not to keep them from crying but to give them a place, your shoulder, to release the emotion that is within them. It may be exactly what they need. Remember to always respect if they say no though!

grating (adj): a grating voice, laugh, or sound is unpleasant and annoying (2)
There are times that laughter is thought to not be appropriate and can come across as mean or judgemental. Be careful on this one. The person who is laughing may have some deep hurt that causes them to laugh instead of lashing out. Or they are afraid of the emotions that are welled up within them and are holding back the best they can to keep from experiencing a flood of emotions they feel may be unstoppable. If you meet this kind of voice and you are the listener – I would say, and yes this may be really hard, be silent and be a rock of peace standing before them. It will allow them to sense the calm and peace and relax enough and most times you will see the voice change and have more peace in it too.

honeyed (adj): honeyed words or a honeyed voice sound very nice, but you cannot trust the person who is speaking (3)
This is one voice that can be mistaken with those who are strong nurturers, the dedicated and devoted personality can come across with this kind of sweet voice that to some others would feel or be fake, thus the mistrust that can come from this voice when it is genuinely a personality trait rather than a tone is often felt deeply by the person who is genuinely sweet. If this is the tone you are getting – assess it with the rest of the person’s general demeanour. For some this may take getting to know someone over time. The other thing to do with this when you are the listener is to use the skill of confirming the intent by reflecting the intent you are hearing.

monotonous (adj): this kind of voice is boring and unpleasant due to the fact that it does not change in loudness or become higher/lower (4)
Here is another tone that is used often by the analytical mind – although they will often speak in a rhythm it can be heard as monotone like talking. This may well be one of the hardest voices to listen to for an extended period of time. Use caution in wanting to jump in and ask more questions or in wanting to shut the person out immediately. If this is a person who is usually bubbly and they are speaking in this voice, be aware and encourage them in general as they may be feeling down or discouraged even if they have not shared that with you. I am going to be starkly honest here – yep one of the hardest kind of voices for me to listen to without nodding off to sleep… changing positions and taking heaps of notes can help me to stay alert. Maybe that will work for you too.

penetrating (adj): a penetrating voice is so high or loud that it makes you slightly uncomfortable (5)
Haha! I have this kind of voice when I sing… it can be so loud and high at the same time that people can not even understand the words. I used to think it was because I was not saying the words clearly but as I learn more about communication and listening I realise that is not so. Often when this voice is used the turn off of our listening ear is almost instantaneous. The reason for this is for protection of the hearing instrument – our ear drum itself. This is not a bad thing and if you speak or in my case sing in this voice do not be offended when asked to repeat yourself. Be sure to use a different voice though when you do repeat it or you still may not be heard.

rough (adj): a rough voice is not soft and is unpleasant to listen to (6)
Again this may be the voice that is often used by the Bold/Brave personality the Leaders. Strong personality traits can come through in our voice as well as our stance and other aspects of our bodies and selves. Learning to not take offence if asked to speak softer or more caring is key to staying in conversations and moving forward to have peaceful relationships with others. Sometimes changing our tone is easy and other times it is not. It may be a skill that will need to be worked on and some people have even hired voice coaches to help with their speaking tone. This can be a great investment if it opens up more doors for you to friendships and business growth.

shrill (adj): a shrill voice is very loud, high, and unpleasant (7)
This is a voice that many do do not like and is usually the result of not just personality but also of being upset and angry thus adding the emotion that results in this tone. Many an argument between couples or mothers towards their young will find this voice tone being used. One of the best ways as a listener to this tone is to give or take a time out. This will give time for the emotional charge to lesson and allow the person speaking to process and find peace within themselves to share their feelings in a way that is not as damaging to themselves and the ears of those around them. When we are speaking in this voice those listening are usually shutting off the incoming message anyway. So better to take a time out and return to the conversation when you are calmer too. The voice will reflect that and the conversation will have a better result too!

stentorian (adj): a stentorian voice sounds very loud and severe (8)
When I read this it makes me think of the people that are thinking they are right and others are not. You know the ones that use a louder voice when trying to make a point in thinking that somehow saying something louder carries more weight and is more convincing. Not so for sure. Often when we speak quietly it actually carries much more weight. The emotions that we are feeling when we are speaking will often come through. Think drill sergeant and his giving commands especially to soldiers that may have messed up or need a bit of redirection. That should help you get a clearer picture of this tone of voice.

strangled (adj): a strangled sound is one that someone stops before they finish making it (9)
A person under great fear of being put down for what they are saying may fall into this vocal tone pattern. It could be because they have been literally threatened or even worse beaten for speaking up in the past. This is one of those times that as a caring listener you need to be reassuring and encouraging and show love. Sometimes the best way that we show love is to just silently listen and encourage the person to tell us more about what they are sharing. To not get angry or frustrated that the person is cutting their words short and to let them know that they are loved.

taut (adj): used about something such as a voice that shows someone is nervous or angry (10)
Ha, yep, totally experience this when I am in a singing competition or singing a song for the first time alone in front of people that I may think are better than me or that could judge me. That is my example of the nervous taut tone. Now when someone is either angry whether they are trying to hide it or just freely letting it go the voice can sound very tight, terse, and taut. Letting someone know that you are not going to listen to them when they are angry is a good option but also let them know that as soon as they are calm enough to enter back into the conversation without the words being fuelled by the angry emotions that you will gladly pick the conversation back up.

thick (adj): if your voice is thick with an emotion, it sounds less clear than usual because of the emotion (11)
Deep emotions will often cause this tone. We will often hear it a lot at funerals or other times of great stress or loss for the person speaking. This is a tone which we need to let ride and be as understanding and caring as possible and just sit with the person allowing them the time they need to express these emotions. Sometimes they will stop talking when they do that you might, if they are open to it and allow you, reach out and take their hand – remember to offer it and not be offended if it is too much for them at that time to receive your support. Just being with someone as they are in the place of deep sorrow can be enough, with or without the hugs and hand holding. Take your cues from the person with the thick voice.

thin (adj): a thin voice or sound is high and unpleasant to listen to (12)
As a woman who gets upset from time to time, it may be best to learn to keep silent when you realise that your vocal tone is coming across as thin, high pitched, which is often unpleasant for many to listen to. This is a tone that you will rarely hear from a man but when you do, it really can grate on your nerves as the man will sound like a child who is constantly whining and whimpering. You could feel manipulated into doing something you were not planning on doing too. This is one of those voices that when faced with it long enough can become a time where you will do anything just to make it be quiet – thus why for many parents the whining works. A phrase that may work on this one, especially with young children, is “I am going to let you try that again.” Not sure exactly why it works but it truly does.

tight (adj): shows that you are nervous or annoyed (13)
Ah, this one is really hard for the listener to get past as it can often be that you are the one the speaker is annoyed with. When that is the case – give the speaker some space – take a five minute breather and allow yourself and them some time to calm down a bit. If that is is not the case and the annoyance is with another person, you may be able to remind them that you are not the one they are annoyed with. This almost always is accompanied by an apology unless you are indeed the one they were annoyed. When this is out of nervous response sometimes a few cleansing slow deep breaths will allow for the throat tightness to relax a wee bit and your voice will become more ‘your normal’ tone. When you are the listener you might actually encourage the speaker to take a few breaths which may in most cases anyway, help them to relax a bit and the voice will usually follow suit.

wobbly (adj): if your voice is wobbly, it goes up and down, usually because you are frightened, not confident, or are going to cry (14)
There are as the definition just stated more than one reason for a wobbly vocal tone. Helping the speaker to see that you are there with them and acknowledging that they may be afraid but you are not going anywhere. Of course depending on the situation you may also have a wobbly voice. In which case I would resort to prayer! When it is for a lack of confidence, I would encourage practicing the speaking, like in the case of a public speaking engagement. When you know more what you are going to say then the voice can be stronger and less wobbly even if you are nervous. The other time this has happened to me is yes, when overcome by emotion and sometimes you just gotta let it be… or stop take a deep breath regain your composure then continue on. Be encouraging!

quavering (adv): if your voice quavers, it is not steady because you are feeling nervous or afraid (15)
see wobbly – very much the same thing for this one… Again practice and knowing what you are going to say will help greatly in reducing the amount of quaver in your voice. Also having someone with you that can support you when speaking is another great way to handle the being afraid issue.

In your quest to communicate better – remember that this moment is the one you are in – the past may be experiences but they are not necessarily perceived in full truth. i.e. Your parents may have been abusive so that now every time you speak with someone in authority – like the police office who just stopped you and is going to give you a ticket – you may have a tight or quavering voice. Remembering that it is not your abusive parent you are talking to nor is it someone likely to beat you – unless you pose a physical threat to them of course – then you can take a couple of deep breaths and enter this very moment and BE present to the conversation. This will help your voice tone be more relaxed and likely change your body language too.

Personal experience is one of the greatest teachers when coupled with observation and objective testing and trials. You too can continue to increase in your skills to communicate. While at times our emotions coming through is exactly what is right and correct. Often it is better to have the intense emotions processed before attempting to enter a conversation, especially if the other person may not like or agree with what you are saying. True wisdom and strength comes from our ability to have a conversation with differing opinions without letting the emotions of the moment flood the voice tones. I know that this is a skill and it can be improved upon… and yep! I know this cause I am living proof… There was a time where I would cower at any questions thrown my way. Now I see them as simply a way to gather information. In the past I would see them as final judgements being passed on me and my character. Now I know that my heart is to be the best me I can be. Now I know I will not do it perfectly. For some, I will fail miserably in their eyes, but in the face and eyes of my Saviour Jesus, I know that I am ok, why? Cause LOVE never fails!! So as long as I walk in love in every attempt to communicate and be with others then I am assured of having the bless and favour of God upon my life in each word shared.

Remember it could be emotions or personality driving the tone – or learned behaviours. Some of this is changeable and can be adjusted with skills and coaching. Vocal coaching is not just for singing! Some people need it to learn to speak differently towards others. Communication that employs the strengths of our own and others personalities can be powerful. Life can be lived in peace and harmony when lived through the power of love.

Happy Communicating to You! Living a ME Life is awesome! Moments Embraced! #beBOLDyou #communicationrocks #stayintheconversation #speakinlove

Story time with Cyndilu

Cyndilu Miller


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Coming soon – Be BOLD You! A book looking at personalities through the light of the love of Christ which was shown us in the cross. What can happen when we love and lay down our life for another and how that impacts our interactions with others.

A positive look at personality traits which define our strengths and how to use these to communicate better with God, others and even ourselves.

Also published on Medium.

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