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4 Ways Tone Can Negatively Impact Negotiations

By |July 31, 2023

Often, we say things that are not received how we expect because we use the wrong tone.

When it comes down to it, tone is the most important skill in negotiations. You might have mastered the Negotiation 9®—The Black Swan Group’s core set of skills—but if you use the wrong tone, you won’t win any business. 

With that in mind, let’s look at four ways using the wrong tone can negatively impact negotiations.

1. It can prevent you from making future deals.

The last impression is the lasting impression, so using the wrong tone can prevent your counterpart from doing business with you in the future. If the last thing they remember is you using a harsh tone, they will never come back.

Ultimately, your tone is more important than what you say. Regardless of political views, Barack Obama has a great tone of voice, unlike other politicians that sound like they are giving lectures. 

Even if there isn’t an immediate deal to be had, a friendly tone can get you far. For example, a counterpart might say: Hey, I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to make things work this time. If the opportunity presents itself again, we would love to do business.

With the right tone, your counterpart won’t feel like you’re trying to force a deal, keeping the door open for future business.

2. You might give off a weird vibe.

Let’s say you’re trying to book a meeting with a no-oriented question: Would you be against meeting next Tuesday? It will come across as strange if you use a high-pitched, fast voice to deliver that message. 

Similarly, if you are delivering bad news, use a slow tone of voice. When you say something like this—You will not like what I have to say—it comes across differently if you speak quickly rather than take your time.

Whether you’re making an ask or delivering bad news, use the late-night FM DJ voice and slow your cadence down. 

3. You could fail to execute Tactical Empathy®.

If you don’t consciously moderate your tone, Tactical Empathy® will not work because your counterpart will believe you don’t understand where they are coming from. 

On the flip side, when you use the right tone of voice, you show you understand the other side’s worldview, perspective, and circumstances. When you consistently show you are aware of those feelings, you connect with them on a deeper level.

It’s not what you say—it’s how you say it. In fact, some studies have found that tone is 13 times more important than what you say. If your tone is incorrect, it doesn’t matter what you say or what skills you use. It will not work.

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

4. Your tone could damage your interpersonal relationships.

If you speak with a positive tone as you go about your day, you will immediately receive better reactions.

Think back to getting yelled at as a kid or by your boss. We remember these experiences because our counterpart came at us with a terrible tone of voice. If they used a kinder tone, their words would have landed so much better.

I have several nieces and nephews under the age of 10. When you yell at them—you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that—they continue with the bad behavior. When you use a soothing tone to correct a behavior, however, they respond differently: Oh, that’s not so bad. I’ll stop.

The reasoning here is simple: The kids think they will be scolded and yelled at. When that doesn’t happen, your words hit them differently.

Learn the power of tone in negotiations.

As a business leader, if you are approachable and don’t have an abrasive tone, people will essentially do anything you ask them. 

In negotiations, the right tone will help you close more deals, and the wrong tone will turn you into a threat nobody wants to work with ever again.

Next time you have a substantive conversation, record it and listen back to it. That’s the only way to be sure you use the right tone. 

Continue your negotiation training by reading our guide, Three Negotiator Types.

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