Tone of voice matters and here's the proof

'It’s the way you said it!' We’ve all heard that, right? We understood it to mean that the content of what we said doesn’t matter, the problem was our tone. I read about this exact issue from two different sources and thought it would be interesting to put them side by side...

In his book ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell tells a story about Psychologist Nalini Ambady, who listened to recordings of conversations that surgeons had with their patients. Interestingly, she “content-filtered” segments of the conversations, which means she removed the high-frequency sounds from the speech (these are the sounds that enable us to understand specific words). She was then left with indecipherable dialogue that preserves tone, pitch and rhythm. From there, she did what Psychologist Dr John Gottman does when he analyses conversations:

She had judges rate the slices of garble for such qualities as warmth, hostility, dominance, and anxiousness, and she found that by using only those ratings, she could predict which surgeons got sued and which ones didn’t.
— Malcolm Gladwell, BLINK

This goes to show that it wasn’t what happened to the patients that made them sue the doctors, it was the way the doctors interacted with them that caused problems. It’s a really good lesson for all of us in relation to communication skills.

Following on from that, Irish doctor Suzanne O’Sullivan wrote a fascinating book called ‘It’s all in your head’. She discusses a scientific study published in the journal Epilepsy & Behaviour in 2009, she notes that specialists of different disciplines can make distinctions about the patient’s diagnosis solely based on the conversation.

A specialist linguist can thus listen to a tape of a consultation and help predict the diagnosis without knowing anything about epilepsy. Or a specialist nurse, experienced and empathetic, can talk to the patient in the casualty department and do the same.
— Suzanne O’Sullivan, IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD

This highlights the fact that experts in certain fields can make accurate judgements about a person primarily based on the tone of voice or language used in a conversation. I thought this was very thought-provoking insight - I hope you enjoyed it.