“No Good – This Is Why Tone Matters In A Negotiation” – Negotiation Tip of the Week

“Tone matters when no good comes from a hero that doesn’t engage in heroic acts.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert (Click to Tweet)

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“No Good – This Is Why Tone Matters In A Negotiation”

To what degree do you consciously lend attention to someone’s tone when they speak? It matters, especially in a negotiation. Because someone can use the same words to represent their thoughts. But it’s the tone that lends insight into the intent of those words.

One such example used in the past is, “man without a woman is helpless.” That statement might be confusing to you, as to the intent it’s meant to convey if you didn’t hear the tone of the message. Here’s the second iteration of those words, “Man, without a woman, is helpless.” That statement might become more understanding as to the intent of the speaker. She’s saying that man would be helpless without a woman. And here’s the third iteration. “Man without, a woman is helpless.” This statement carries the sentiment that a woman without a man is helpless. Thus, only when you hear the tone’s emphasis, when someone is speaking, does the meaning adopt more clarity. And in the written form, if the punctuation is missing, the purpose of the statement can also be confusing.

What’s Missing

Sometimes, when you’re listening to someone, you focus so much on their words that you don’t hear what they’re not saying. In a negotiation, listening to what’s not said is essential, because the missing words might indicate something the other negotiator doesn’t want to discuss. And that could prove to be vital information to your negotiation efforts.

When people speak, what they omit can be as telling about the message they’re delivering than what they’re saying. Thus, you should always be aware of what someone is saying, but you should also be mindful of what they’re not saying. Being attentive in that manner will allow you to grasp more of the intent of the message they’re conveying and the ones unspoken.

Emotional Reaction

Another barometer to observe is how you emotionally feel when listening to someone’s statements. Those feelings may occur within the first few seconds of the person speaking. And they may become altered as you hear more of what they’re saying. Understand what’s happening within yourself. And strive to understand how you’re evaluating what you’re hearing. That will allow you to assess better the meaning that’s being conveyed by the speaker. And making that assessment will enable you to grasp a higher sense of his intent. 


Another aspect that gives the tone a higher definition is the order in which someone presents their words. Referring back to our example, instead of the statement, “man without a woman is helpless.” Suppose the speaker said, “without a man, a woman is helpless.” If someone stated the latter, there’d be less ambiguity. Thus the importance that word order has when communicating.


Are you seeing what you’re hearing? Does that sound confusing to you?

To better understand what you hear, when face-to-face, listen with your eyes. That means you can gain clues to someone’s intent, based on the gestures they emit when they speak. As an example, if they smile while speaking, the smile may convey sincerity or sarcasm. It would be up to you to discern the intent of the meaning as you further engaged that person. But, regardless of your perception, you’d have more information from which to question the purpose of someone’s words. And that will give you a greater depth of that person’s intent.


Another way to glean insight into the meaning of someone’s tone is to observe the immediate action they engage in after they’ve spoken. As an example, if they step closers to you in a non-threatening manner, that might convey a sense of openness. They may be stating that they’re approachable. At a minimum, they’re saying that they’re not afraid of you. Contrast the same scene, but this time, that person takes a step back while frowning at you. That would send a message that was the opposite of the previous encounter. Always take note of what occurs as someone concludes their actions. The action will give you more insight into the meaning of their words and the next act they might perform.

Challenging Premises

There will be times when someone makes a statement that sounds like a question. That’s usually due to an octave increase on the last word placed on the declaration. When you hear such pronouncements, take note and also observe what follows. At worse, the person is not sure of what they’re saying, or they’re not sure how you perceive it. When you sense either, understand that might be a point to challenge the premise of their statement. Doing so will alert them that they can’t just say anything and get away with it. It’ll also state that you may be keener than they thought.  


Many times, the emphasis applied to spoken words alters the meaning of the message, which is why it’s so important to listen to someone’s tone as they speak. That’s even more important when you’re in a negotiation. Because if you miss a vital piece of information, due to your lack of attentiveness, you risk losing the intent of the message. And that can be deadly in a negotiation. Thus, when you’re negotiating or engaged in meaningful conversation, pay attention to the tone people use to emphasize the words they speak. Because someone’s tone matters, per the meaning and possible alteration, that it gives to their message. Being observant will enhance your interactions with them and make you a better negotiator. And everything will be right with the world.  

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

Listen to Greg’s podcast at https://anchor.fm/themasternegotiator

After reading this article, what are you thinking? I’d like to know. Reach me at Greg@TheMasterNegotiator.com

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