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The tone of your voice


The Bible says, "Let your gentleness be evident to all," and "be ye kind one to another," and, "a soft answer turns away wrath."

I have often said that the tone of your voice has more to do with the quality of your relationships than any other single factor. I read a section of Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink that illustrates this in spades. Great story: 

Itís possible, in fact, to take this analysis even further. The psychologist Nalini Ambady listened to Levinsonís tapes, zeroing in on the conversations that had been recorded between just surgeons and their patients. For each surgeon, she picked two patient conversations. Then, from each conversation, she selected two ten-second clips of the doctor talking, so her slice was a total of forty seconds. Finally, she ďcontent-filteredĒ the slices, which means she removed the high-frequency sounds from speech that enable us to recognize individual words. Whatís left after content-filtering is a kind of garble that preserves intonation, pitch, and rhythm but erases content. Using that sliceóand that slice aloneóAmbady did a Gottman-style analysis. She had judges rate the slices of garble for such qualities as warmth, hostility, dominance, and anxiousness, and she found that by using only those ratings, she could predict which surgeons got sued and which ones didnít.

Ambady says that she and her colleagues were ďtotally stunned by the results,Ē and itís not hard to understand why. The judges knew nothing about the skill level of the surgeons. They didnít know how experienced they were, what kind of training they had, or what kind of procedures they tended to do. They didnít even know what the doctors were saying to their patients. All they were using for their prediction was their analysis of the surgeonís tone of voice. In fact, it was even more basic than that: if the surgeonís voice was judged to sound dominant, the surgeon tended to be in the sued group. If the voice sounded less dominant and more concerned, the surgeon tended to be in the non-sued group. Could there be a thinner slice? Malpractice sounds like one of those infinitely complicated and multidimensional problems. But in the end it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice, and the most corrosive tone of voice that a doctor can assume is a dominant tone. Did Ambady need to sample the entire history of a patient and doctor to pick up on that tone? No, because a medical consultation is a lot like one of Gottmanís conflict discussions or a studentís dorm room. Itís one of those situations where the signature comes through loud and clear.




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