I remember how the ball bounced, just before it broke the window. The thing about those hard rubber balls is that they get quite a momentum behind them, unstoppable you might say, especially when thrown down a concrete floored corridor, where they can ricochet off the walls and ceiling to boot. In situations such as this, the glass door at the end is unlikely to prove substantial enough to stop it and indeed this was the case, as could be predicted.
What was less easy to predict was that the teacher should have been rounding the corner at that very moment: unfortunate timing to say the least. “To my study” came the roar, words not to be ignored. The voice of authority had spoken across the broken glass: it was a voice to be obeyed.
I forget the details of whatever excuse we used, but suffice it to say that punishment was avoided. Whatever masterpiece of negotiation was used, it must have been persuasive because i don’t remember this particular teacher being noted for leniency. Still, sometimes we are able to produce the right words for the right occasion. Words have power, as does the way that they are delivered.
The other occasion that springs to mind was harder: in the paediatric ward in the hospital. My best friend’s daughter struck down with meningitis. I remember the confusion of the phone call, the mounting fear, furiously thinking of the right words, the comforting words and finally the inability to use any words as we simply hugged and waited until the danger subsided, until words came back and we were able to express relief, love and exhaustion. Words are powerful, as is how they are delivered. Our tone of voice sets the scene, conveys the urgency and establishes the authority of the messages.
When we are writing for learning, we need to consider not just the words, but also the tone of voice use: are we telling or sharing, are we talking or listening, are we alongside you or driving you forward. Consider the different tones of voice that we hear everyday: newsreaders and managers, colleagues and family, actors and adverts. Each one using a different tone of voice with different words, all loaded with meaning and intent.
How often do you flex your tone? How well can you identify the different voices used in different situations?