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Edition 89 – The Power of Intonantion

When I attended Alan Weiss’ “Million Dollar Consulting College” in Rhode Island, USA in May 2015, I sat next to a lady by the name of Libby Wagner. It was Monday morning, the first day of an intensive week of training and the 13 delegates in the room were doing the rounds, introducing themselves as proceedings got underway.

Libby sat on my right and hence was immediately before me in introducing herself. Here I was, the only Australian amongst Canadians, Americans and a couple of Irish delegates as Libby’s turn came up. She proceeded to explain to the room that she identified herself as “The Boardroom Poet” and being based in Seattle, had worked with a number of large, global corporates.

I sat there, completely stunned. “A Boardroom Poet” I repeated to myself. WTF is that? Have I just stumbled across some happy clapping, singing convention here? You mean, I’ve travelled 15000km and more than 30 hours of a non-stop journey to sit next to someone who calls themselves “The Boardroom Poet”.

As the week progressed, I got to know Libby a whole lot better and I realised that what she was on about was not a whole lot of BS after all. Instead, she played a very vital role in helping business owners and high level managers understand the use of language in business and how important it is in terms of getting your message across.

I mention that story because I see it is not only language that is powerful in conveying a message, but also how you use intonation in your language.

To explain what I mean, ask yourself (or even better, someone else) these 3 questions with a negative intonation – like you would ask a naughty child or someone you vehemently disagreed with:

  1. Who do you think you are?
  2. What, on earth, are you doing?
  3. What will you think of next?

Now, ask those same questions in a positive, non combative tone? What did you find? I would suggest that you would discover:

  1. Different answers to the same questions.
  2. Different reactions if you had asked the question out loud to someone.
  3. A different stance from your viewpoint – and towards the continuation of the discussion.
  4. A different feeling internally – calmer, less aggressive, more willing to listen.

You see, it is not just about language. It is also about how you inflect your voice to convey your message.

For those of us that are strong leaders, sometimes we convey our message not through words, but through volume. Those that speak the loudest are heard the easiest. However, are they the ones that are understood the best?

For those personalities that aren’t so strong, does that mean they don’t get their message across, simply by virtue of volume over content? Or, like running water in the river bed, are they more effective as they smooth away the conversation, like the water smooths the pebbles?

In the changing face of business today, I see the importance of language in being able to lead a conversation or state a position. Sometimes, the offer from two competing businesses may well be the same. However, what may bring the deal over the line might be the language used, and how successfully you intonate your voice, rather than the offer itself.

This Week’s Tip

Whatever personality style you are, the best way to practise using intonation to get your message across is to find someone that is close to you (your spouse, a close friend or a respected business colleague) who will give you honest feedback.