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In the workplace, a woman’s tone of voice has a profound impact on how she’s perceived. If a woman should ever be wrongly thought of as whiny or bossy, it can mark the end of a positive workplace relationship. 

It’s unfair and unfortunate, but it’s a reality women have to contend with. 

Despite these challenges, tone can also be our biggest strength. If you can master your tone, people will generally be receptive to whatever you have to say.

As such, how you say something matters more than what you actually say. Tone is the first thing someone will notice about you and has the power to make or break that first impression.

With all this in mind, it’s critical for us women to be aware of the intricacies of the tones we use and how others may incorrectly perceive them. 

The “Late-Night FM DJ” Voice

Black Swan CEO and founder Chris Voss teaches us to use a friendly, accommodating tone most of the time we talk. But when the  time comes to make an ask or share bad news, he advises us to utilize the ”Late-Night FM DJ” voice—which is low and slow (and when you’re Chris Voss- almost whispery).

Unfortunately, pulling off this tone successfully is much more difficult for women. If you allow the whispery sound Chris uses into your tone, it’s possible that male counterparts can wrongly interpret this as sultry, changing the conversation and making it more difficult for you to get your message across. 

The fix here is to talk low and slow, pronounce each word very clearly, and leave the whisper sound out. This will help ensure your counterpart does not misinterpret your meaning.

Not sure how to strike the right balance? Relax your shoulders, tilt your chin forward, slow your speech, and enunciate every word clearly. You’ll be rocking the “Late-Night FM DJ” voice in no time.

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

Beware the Accommodator Tone

Another unfortunate reality of the workplace is that women who speak with a lighter tone are often unfairly interpreted as shrill, bossy, or even airheaded. This is precisely why Margaret Thatcher lowered the pitch of her voice to be taken seriously in a male-dominated political space. 

When you’re using the Accommodator tone—which should comprise roughly 80 percent of your speaking time—you need to ensure you don’t speak too lightly. 

Again, this isn’t fair. But you don’t want your counterpart to dismiss your points or underestimate you solely due to how you speak. If you have a high voice, it may be necessary to speak at a lower octave if you want to ensure your message gets across. 

Additionally, many women feel they must be assertive to become a leader. Masculine traits such as dominance, assertiveness, and authoritativeness tend to be markers of leadership in male-dominated fields. 

Avoid the temptation to lean into these traits. Instead, use Tactical Empathy™—which inherently relies on the more feminine labeled traits of intuition and collaboration. 

How to Recover from Using the Wrong Tone

You’re a human being, so you will make mistakes. We all do. When you find yourself using the wrong tone, stop, take a deep breath, and use Dynamic Silence™ to give your counterpart space to think. 

If, for example, you’re coming across as an Assertive and the other person is taken aback, say something like: I’m sorry if that sounded pushy—.

Ultimately, using the right tone is all about being in the proper mindset. Before entering a negotiation, you likely have a lot on your mind. Get ready using C.A.V.I.AA.R™, and ensure you vent before sitting down at the table. Talk to a colleague who knows you, have them provide feedback on your tone, and be ready to accept their opinions. 

If an attack happens on the fly and you don’t have time to vent, you need to focus on your mindset immediately. Take a deep breath, create some dynamic silence, and remind yourself to stay curious about the interaction. Practicing your tone and your mindset ahead of time will help you maintain your composure.

Succeeding with Tone

Ultimately, if you want to master your tone, you need to get to know yourself on the deepest level possible. You also need to understand that you will make mistakes and be prepared to deal with them as they materialize. Unfortunately, as a woman, you need to be aware that others may wrongly interpret your meaning due to warped perceptions about your tone. 

Using the right tone can mean all the difference in the world for negotiators. But if you really want to get to the next level, you also need to know as much about the person sitting across the table from you as possible.

Want to learn more? Check out our guide, Tone in Communication: Why Your Tone is Killing Your Negotiations.

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