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Mastering Tone in Negotiations & Why It Matters

By |May 01, 2023

Everyone’s heard the famous adage: It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

In a lot of ways, that’s entirely true. When you’re speaking to someone, your tone of voice is the first thing they will notice about you. Bring an engaging tone to the table, and your counterpart will engage with you. Bring a blunt and direct tone, and they might be hesitant to interact. 

In my opinion, tone is underrated. We all know people with a good, friendly tone of voice—they’re the kind of people everyone wants to talk to. We also all know people who come across as standoffish, and we don’t necessarily look forward to our next interaction with them.

One of the Laws of Negotiation Gravity™ teaches us that tone can shape people’s minds and influence their thinking. Understanding that before entering a conversation is critical. 

In our experience, the tone you use is 13 times more important than what you say. That’s because tone of voice induces emotions in people. Use a certain tone, and you can make your counterpart defensive. Use a different tone, and you can make them focused.

Use the Accommodator tone 80% of the time.

Most of the time you speak, you should use the Accommodator tone. This friendly, approachable voice engages the other side and makes them feel comfortable. 

This tone comes naturally for some people. If it doesn’t for you, here’s a simple hack: Start smiling before you speak. As you smile, you’ll get more energy, and it’ll be easier to carry a conversational tone and gather information.

Whatever you do, don’t use an Assertive tone. Once you start yelling at the other side, they will retreat inwardly and stop talking—making it impossible for you to uncover Black Swans.

Use the “late-night FM DJ” tone 20% of the time.

The friendly tone doesn’t work all the time. What if you had to deliver bad news and did it with a smile? That would be weird.

So when you need to make an ask or share bad news, use the ”late-night FM DJ” voice. It’s a low, slow voice we use to get people to focus on the words we’re saying. This tone makes your counterpart pay attention because they know what you’re about to say is crucial. 

Of course, if you use this tone all the time, you will make your counterpart fall asleep. Don’t do that.

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

What negotiator type are you?

Whether you’re an Assertive, an Accommodator, or an Analyst, you can take away some information from this post.


When you use an Assertive tone, it triggers the fight-or-flight response in your counterpart, and the logical part of their brain turns off. Avoid this by reminding yourself to stay curious and remain cognizant of the tone you use throughout the negotiation. By staying curious and genuinely trying to uncover new information, it’s impossible to come across too harsh.


It’s easier for Accommodators to use a friendly voice—it comes naturally to them. But when you use a friendly voice too much, it can come across as disingenuous. Just like smiling makes it easier to use a friendly tone, consciously not smiling makes it easier to use a more subtle tone. To do this, drop your chin and put your shoulders forward. This will lower your larynx, enabling you to use a deeper tone.


Analysts often have a hard time using a friendly tone because they’re always thinking about data and busy with their thoughts. This negotiator type needs to focus on smiling more and becoming engaged. This is another area in which staying curious can be helpful. Additionally, sitting up tall, putting your chin up, and smiling will raise your larynx, making it easier to speak with a higher pitch.

It all starts with tone.

When using negotiation skills, tone is essential. None of the skills will work if you don’t have a good tone of voice. You might be the best at using Labels™ in the world, and you might be able to ask the best questions. But none of it will matter if your tone is off-putting. 

From time to time, we all get heated. Should you use the wrong tone in a negotiation, there’s a simple fix: Apologize. Throw in an Accusation Audit®: I'm sure what I just said makes you never want to work with me again. Clearly what I said caught you off guard and I've made you defensive.

When you use the right tone of voice, it’s much easier to use our skills. For a brief refresher on our core skills, check out this infographic: The Black Swan Group’s Negotiation 9™.

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