How You Say It Matters

The quality of your voice makes a difference as to how, and even if, people interpret what you are saying. At Emily Post we identified six different qualities of voice that affect the success of communications.

Tone. At the top of the list is tone of voice. Simply put, you can sound sincere or insincere just by the tone of your voice. For example, we’ve all heard the insincere “I’m sorry” which simply does not convey any believability that the person really is sorry. They’re just going through the steps of apologizing without taking responsibility for their actions. Conversely, the person who apologizes sincerely and whose serious tone reflects that sincerity takes the first step to resolving the issue and moving on. Tone can also sound friendly or angry, engaged or not interested. Think carefully not only about the words you use but what the tone of your voice communicates about the intent behind your message.


Speed. Fast talkers can be difficult to understand. Worse yet is the fast talker on a telephone call when there are no facial expressions or visual clues to help the listener understand what is being said.

Accent. People from different parts of the country or from different countries may speak with an accent that can be hard to understand. If there is a chance you speak with an accent, try to articulate words clearly and, if you tend to speak fast, slow down. When you combine accent with speed, you have a formula for not being understood.

Laughter. Whenever I raise this point, I think of the difference between a pleasant, engaging laugh and the cackling laugh that was a trademark of Fran Drescher on The Nanny. Which is your laugh more like?

Pronunciation. Mispronouncing words, especially words that relate to the topic you are meant to be knowledgeable about, can lead the listener to wonder if you really do know what you are talking about.

Inflection. Inflection goes to the core of good verbal communication. By stressing key words as you speak, you draw attention to the more important ideas you want to communicate. In addition, using inflection implies varying the pace as you speak to further bring stress to important ideas. As you slow down and stress a phrase, you impart importance to what you are saying.


Finally, as important as the quality of your voice is to successful communication, being a good listener matters just as much because the good communicator is a good listener as well as a good speaker.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected]

Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at

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.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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