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3 Ways Tone Can Make or Break a Deal

By |May 15, 2023

Your tone of voice is the first thing people notice about you. Tone is more than just volume—it’s a balance of your pitch, pace, timbre, intonation, speed, and rhythm. Ultimately, tone is the foundation that switches on every other skill that The Black Swan Group teaches.

When you approach a negotiation with the wrong tone and a lack of curiosity, you render any negotiation technique ineffective because you’ll turn people off. Readers who have seen the movie Office Space will no doubt remember the monotone drawl of Bill Lumbergh, the micromanaging boss who is always asking employees to complete archaic reports and come into the office on weekends. Don’t be a Bill! If you want to be taken seriously, your tone must match your words and actions. 

With all this in mind, let’s examine some key ways using the wrong tone can thwart your efforts at the negotiation table.

1. The wrong tone makes a bad first impression.

You might have the best pitch in the world. But if your tone is wrong, the other side will stop listening. Once you’re done, they won’t remember a single word you said—they’ll just think about how obnoxious you were when you opened your mouth. Should that happen, you’ll encounter countless obstacles in your relationships and short-term deals. Your tone will introduce negative emotions that put your counterpart on the defensive and make them not want to do business with you.

Avoid this fate by using the friendly Accommodator voice 80 percent of the time, slowing down your cadence, and speaking quietly right when you’re about to say something important or make your ask.

When you lead with the right tone, you make a great first impression, making your work at the table easier.

Learn everything you need to know about mastering your tone of voice.

2. The wrong tone makes a bad last impression.

Generally speaking, people remember two parts of a negotiation: the most intense part and the last few minutes. If you’re using an Assertive tone during the most intense part of the negotiation—maybe you’re getting a bit annoyed because the other side won’t budge on a detail you think is trite—your counterpart will at least have second thoughts about doing business with you.

There’s a common saying: The last impression is the lasting impression. By ensuring you leave a conversation on a friendly and collaborative note, you can increase the chances you make a great last impression and get a deal.

3. The wrong tone kills Tactical Empathy®.

When you use the wrong tone of voice, the worst-case scenario is that you won’t be able to execute Tactical Empathy®, making it impossible to achieve trust-based influence. Should that happen, forget about winning as much business as you otherwise could.

When used correctly, tone can make your counterpart feel heard. They will feel understood, comfortable, and in a positive frame of mind—key ingredients in making deals and executing Tactical Empathy.   

Controlling your tone and staying genuinely curious can help you make more deals because your counterpart will lower their defenses and give you more information. You read that correctly: The right tone of voice makes your counterpart more comfortable sharing information. Plus, a friendly tone increases the chances your counterpart has a better opinion of you, and they’ll share that sentiment with their team.

No matter how heated you get, there’s never a circumstance where an impatient, assertive tone is constructive or helpful. By being polite, friendly, and curious, you can influence how your counterpart thinks. 

Once you reach a point in the negotiation where you’ve addressed the negative emotions and are moving forward with an agreement, the pace of the conversation will pick up as your counterpart lets their guard drop. That’s when you can tell if a deal is right around the corner.

Now that you know more about the role your tone of voice plays in successful negotiations, check out our infographic to learn about the Negotiation 9®—The Black Swan Group’s core set of negotiation skills. 

Tone in Communication: Why Your Tone is Killing Your Negotiations Guide