Watching the programme ‘House’ the other night I was struck by a the way Cameran delivered the line “If that’s what you want” to her husband and colleague Chase. She placed the emphasis on the word ‘you’. The meaning was clear. She was making a point about who’s opinion she thought Chase was expressing. She suspecting (rightly!) that Chase had been manipulated into the opinion by the irrepressible House. Emphasising ‘you’ she stressed that Chase should be sure it was indeed his opinion and not from someoneelse.
It got me thinking about the tone of voice we use and which word we place the emphasis on. Repeat Cameran’s line to yourself, “If that’s what you want”. Say it five times, each time emphasising a different word. How does that change the meaning of the sentence.?
When the word ‘if’ is stressed – you sound as though you are questioning the person’s opinion. It sounds as there is doubt about the surety of the statement, that there is room to maneuver. When ‘that’ is stressed, its the content that is being questioned.When ‘want’ is stressed, the line sounds confident and strong, with little additional meaning.
When was the last time you made a statement and it was taken the wrong way? or misunderstood? Can you remember how you delivered the statement? Where you placed the emphasis? It may be that the person on the receiving end read more into the sentence than you meant. In the above example, placing emphasis on the wrong word might lead the other person to think that their opinions are in doubt.
Think of the type of thing you say in work – practice changing emphasis – what happens? Here are some examples that can have a very different meaning depending on what word is stressed. Practice saying them out loud…what happens to the meaning?
You did that well this time
Have you read the procedures for this process?
Is this the result you intended?
What do you think?
How’s it going today?
You seem to be doing a great job
Tell me what you think about this situation?
We are glad to have you on our team
Does this work meet the standard you have set for yourself?
What can I do to help you?
Feel free to come to me when you have a question or problem
An additional hint – be careful of raising the pitch and tone towards the end of a sentence. As we raise our pitch towards the end of a question – using the technique to convey a statement can make you sound less confident, unsure of your position and ultimately less trustworthy.
In Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler’s famous line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” was stated with emphasis on the word ‘give’ because it was not deemed appropriate for him to emphasis ‘damn’. Are there times when you changed emphasis because of how you would sound – how it would be understood?