My face flushed red as the adrenaline coursed through my body. I couldn’t be more embarrassed! My words – or rather, the way I spoke my words to my brother – betrayed something about our relationship that I wasn’t ready to hear.

It was just another day; I didn’t feel angry, upset, down or anything. In fact, I had been with a friend for the morning and was quite elated. That was until my friend called me out.

My friend was present as I was speaking to my brother. I don’t recall the content of our conversation, but our brief exchange was enough to reveal something wretched.

After my brother left the room, my friend turned to me and boldly stated, “you speak to your brother with a harsh tone of voice.” To which I immediately retorted, “No, I don’t.”

While this was probably partly to do with defending my pride, I did genuinely believe my tone of voice was fine.

Well, later in the day I spoke with my brother again. With my blind spot now revealed, it was inevitable – I couldn’t help but hear myself. The hostile tone was now apparent to me in all its deformity. It was so clearly visible that I had to pause and give thought to how I proceeded.

Every subsequent conversation would remind me of my friend’s charge. Thanks buddy.

Our tone of voice isn’t about what we say, but about how we say it. It’s the sound and inflection of our words and the attitude we communicate. You might know from experience that while you may not remember what was said, you certainly remember the tone in which the words were delivered.

Tone of voice is often evidence of something deeper. Far from simply pointing out my tone of voice, my friend was unwittingly identifying a more disturbing reality. In this case, the tone was simply a symptom of a deeply fractured and resentment-filled relationship – the product of a dysfunctional family.

All of us carry around with us a level of dysfunction in our relationships. Our tone of voice helps reveal to us that something is wrong. Can we, or a trusted friend, hear in our tone of voice anger, urgency, irritation, rage, or are we simply mumbling and not giving the person to whom we are communicating the benefit of actually hearing us?

What we discover will demand of us a choice. Do we ignore the issue and move on, or do we allow it to lay the foundation for improved communication habits, and more broadly speaking, improved relationships?

In my case, if I ignored my tone of voice and the problems in my relationship with my brother, I would be denying both of us any prospects of peace. So I made a conscious decision to adopt a more pleasant tone of voice in speaking with him. And at the same time, I addressed my heart’s attitude toward my brother specifically, and my family more broadly.

After that incident, 11 years ago, I began to consider my brother a close friend and continue to today. Our family dynamics have also substantially improved as a whole. Fixing my tone of voice was one of the elements in a broader transformational story.

I used the following steps to improve my tone of voice and my relationship:

  1. Think about your tone of voice, particularly when speaking to people you are having difficulty with.
  2. Find a close and trusted friend you can provide with permission to ‘call you out’ if they hear you communicating with a negative tone of voice.
  3. Identify the reason for, or rather, the cause of, your negative tone of voice. Do you need to address something in your relationship, whether in your family, at school, business or even sports club?
  4. Adopt a more pleasant tone of voice for your communication. This may take some practice through active reflection. Recording yourself speak may also help you identify the problem tone.

I hope these practical steps can help you too, to adjust your tone of voice and bring peace to your relationships.