A group of us just moved to a new building at work, and as it turns out the building wasn’t quite ready for us. Some of the building issues are interesting (like the bathroom doors that don’t automatically close), while some are pretty annoying (like the absence of recycle bins for us granola crunchers.) One of the hidden benefits, though, is our new mystery printer. What, you ask, is a mystery printer? It’s a printer that is mapped to computers that belong to people in other buildings . . . in other words, everything that comes off of the printer is a mystery because it has nothing to do with your group. Good times.
Anyway, I went to get something from the printer this morning, but of course it’s not there – it’s on some other printer somewhere in the company, I guess. (That’s okay; I mean, it’s not like I’m in Human Resources and 90% of the stuff I print is confidential and proprietary or anything.) What I did find on the printer, though, were thirty copies of a 20-page presentation entitled “Voice and Tone.”
“Voice and Tone” is designed to a primer for marketing communications folks, to help clarify the intent of written communication before it is written, ostensibly to make the communication a bit more clear for the reader. In the business world, customers are number one. We need to understand them, help them, say yes where we can and say no if we must. We must be conscious of our voice and tone at all times to build our credibility and reputation as the “go to” people. Sounds quite noble, I think. On page five, the presentation states this intent in no uncertain terms:
“What we say and how we say it is one of the primary elements of style . . . voice determines the effect our communications have on our readers . . . depending on how we use voice and tone, it establishes us as a friend, advisor, or authority figure . . . invokes fear, trust, or respect . . . makes our customers feel empowered, vulnerable, or energized. Our voice reflects our personality, and our personality is what we use to build relationships.”
I love this. But I don’t care about it in a business context, although I recognize it’s importance and use it many times each day. No, what I love about it is the applicability to parenting and unschooling.
Let’s start with the presumption that, in general and barring severe circumstances like being chased by a tornado or something, we as unschooling parents are trying treat our children and each other in ways that make obvious our love, compassion, and genuine interest for each other. When I view my role as a parent and partner through that lens, I think of words like coach, encourage, inspire, share, listen, learn, breathe, relax, enable, empower, observe, enjoy, etc. These words, taken together, help me paint of picture of who I am when I am at my best and most engaged in the things that really matter in my life.
But I am not always able to be fully engaged in those things, of course, because five days a week I spend my days in a world in which success is measured quite differently, and in which the lens with which I view my work is certainly different and frequently murkier. Most days, I am able to switch lenses when I go home so I can embrace my role as parent and partner to an amazing group of people. Some days it is harder, and I come home in a mindset that is the opposite of the words I used above: talk instead of listen, tense instead of relax, instruct instead of learn, etc. And when I have that mindset, my voice and tone change.
Let’s go back to the definition, but replace a few of the words. “. . . voice determines the effect our communications have on our children . . . depending on how we use voice and tone, it establishes us as a friend, partner, advisor, or authority figure . . . invokes fear, trust, or love . . . helps our children feel confident, vulnerable, or energized. Our voice reflects our personality, and our personality is what we use to build relationships with our children.”
How very, very true. Every day when I come home, someone wants to show me something – what they did, what they are wearing, what they made for me, their plans for the evening. They are coming to me with an offer to join them in their fears and joys, uncertainties and confidence. They are providing me with a small crack in time in which I can help them soothe, share, and laugh, or help them agitate, withdraw, and reflect my own attitude back at me. They approach me with such simple questions, like “Daddy, want to watch me play my new game?” I can easily turn something so simple into a complex issue through my voice and tone – simply by choosing to say “YES!! Let me just change clothes really quick and then I am all yours! Can’t wait!” instead of “Not right now, buddy.”
In the business world, customers are number one. We need to understand them, help them, say yes where we can and say no if we must. We must be conscious of our voice and tone at all times to build our credibility and reputation as the “go to” people. While our children are not customers in the traditional sense, they come to us with needs and for guidance. They deserve our complete focus on voice and tone as we help them navigate through their wants and needs.