Finding your tone

During the week I’ve been working on the Finding Your Tone module of the Find Your Voice programme. And, as always, this is the point where theory and reality have a head-on crash.

Do you find that too? When you’re doing some deep work, the very thing you’re aspiring to address shows up big-time in the mirror…

Well, it keeps me humble in the land of reality, not fiction – and I have an amazing husband!

Being heard isn’t just about our words. It’s also the effect of our tone. How we are encountered and experienced as thoughtful changemakers.

Therefore, how we make others feel is as important as what we say. For example, are we authentic and congruent? Do we engage or just speak from the sidelines? And are we aware of difference and can we cross boundaries?

So how can we develop our tone of voice? I’ve come up with five different practices that might help.

Test them out and let me know whether they enable you to be heard – in the right way.

Being present

“We can pretend to care but we can’t pretend to show up.” Ashley Judd, quoted by Simon Sinek on Twitter…

As thoughtful changemakers, we have the potential to make a different kind of difference. We don’t have to crash around or walk over other people until we force the change we want to see.

Instead, if we want to build trust and the platform for change, we have to show up – in person – bringing all that we are. This takes practice. So here are some tips and exercises to try out:

1. Listening generously requires our whole being.

  • Practice being intentional and active when you are listening to someone else
  • How does that feel and what else do you notice?

2. Cultivating curiosity helps shift our focus and awakens our attention.

  • Reflect on a recent conversation. Identify some of the things that sparked your interest, even if you didn’t pursue them at the time
  • Frame your curiosity as questions. These may be for the other person, or it may be a wider, or indeed more personal, exploration.

3. Being here – this is a simple practice, adapted from Brian Draper. You can do this in a minute or for as long as you want, whenever you want. It is great for bringing yourself back into the present…

  • Pause (stop everything)
  • Relax (really intentionally)
  • Breathe (slowly and deeply)
  • Smile (and let it permeate your whole being)


“Who are we here for?”

When we know why we are seeking change, we know who we are doing it for. Because why isn’t an abstract idea. It has legs… attached to bodies.

This enables us to be clear about who we are speaking to and having a greater sense of what it’s like to be in their shoes.

1. Thinking about the change you are seeking to make, there are likely to be at least two groups of people:

  • Those who will benefit from the change – who are they?
  • Those who need to change in order for the benefit to be realised – who are they?

2. For each group identify:

  • What matters to them?
  • How can you understand them better?
  • What difference would this make?
  • So what are you going to do about it now…?

Crossing boundaries

“Building bridges for a better world.”

To bridge silos – of whatever sort – we need to be comfortable being at the boundary. This is difficult to do if we think our world is the only world!

Sometimes the bridges we build are for us to cross. And sometimes it’s so that others can make the journey. Either way, it requires connections across differences

1. Edges and middles

  • Identify those situations where you sit on a boundary and where you are in the centre of the patch.
  • Explore what is different about both and what you can do to be more comfortable at the edge.

2. We have a tendency to adopt convergent (narrowing down) thinking when we are in the middle of our patch or comfort zone, because “it’s obvious…“

  • Pick an issue to think about divergently (expanding outwards) – or deliberately do it during the course of your work.
  • Note what triggers your censoring (closing down) what you’re thinking.

3. Finally, take the issue and look at it from different angles than you are familiar with (integrative thinking).

  • How does this shift your thinking?
  • How might you talk about this differently to someone who is also in the middle of your patch?


“Questions can transform the world as we know it…” Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question

Good questions are powerful. Offered with thought and generosity of spirit they enable change rather than cause reaction.

In posing questions we are inviting others on a journey, rather than forcing an unchallengeable destination on them. And they are much more likely to come with us…

1. Identify an occasion when a question you were asked enabled you to see things differently.

  • What happened?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • What did you do as a result?

2. Work on the change you are seeking to make by trying out different types of questions –

  • For example: why? what if…? how? – and imagine how they might land with your different groups or individuals (see Empathy above).
  • How could the questions be improved?

Calling time

“When enough is enough…”

If we’re seeking change then we are starting from the belief that how things are now is not okay. They could be better.

There is a line. It’s ours to own. So let’s hold it well.

1. Reflecting on the change you are seeking to make – your line:

  • How did you become aware of it?
  • Was this an immediate response or did it grow over time? If so, what fuelled it?
  • What is your predominant emotion? Is it serving you well, or is it pointing to other issues?

2. Stories and emotions are important. Without them, we become less than ourselves and our voice is anaemic. Dominated by them we become unhealthy and people just can’t hear us.

  • Either work your way through this by writing freehand (i.e. just writing and keep on writing, perhaps have a conversation with yourself) or find someone you can share with. Or both…

We need all of these dimensions if we are going to strengthen our tone of voice positively. Like a muscle it needs balanced exercise – otherwise, we might fall down the rabbit hole of trying to be nice (and anaemic) or fail to realise that we can’t be heard.

Thanks for reading (and listening)


This week

I am so glad that I stepped out this week with a heightened appreciation of friends and community. This was a good backdrop for exploration because this is why finding our tone is so important – with people. This is where it becomes real.