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His Big-Man Work Voice

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One night as Sarah and I were driving home from a small group Bible study, Sarah expressed some strong feelings that had been building up in her over several weeks.

“You were boring in our Bible study tonight,” she said, almost angrily. “You intimidate people with your silence. And when you do talk, you sometimes say something insensitive. What you said to the new couple came across poorly.”

I was taken aback but tried to defend myself. “What are you talking about? I was trying to listen to people and understand what they were saying.”

Sarah’s answer went up several more decibels. “You need to make people feel more relaxed and comfortable.” (The decibels rose some more.) “You need to draw them out.” (Now Sarah was almost shouting.) “Don’t be so into yourself!”

I didn’t respond for a few seconds because I was feeling put down, not only by what she said but by her demeanor and her tone. I replied, “Sarah, you can be right but wrong at the top of your voice.”

Of course, I am guilty too of oftentimes being right but wrong at the top of my voice. We all are. The truth is, our tone communicates more to whomever we are speaking with than do the actual words we are saying. And many times, the key to staying off the Crazy Cycle is as simple as being aware of the tone of voice we are communicating with, as was the case with one husband who wasn’t aware of how often he was using his “big-man work voice” when he spoke with his wife.

His wife wrote:

You are absolutely 100 percent correct that tone can either make or break a relationship. When my husband was working at home he came into the room I was in and told me to do something. I was hurt and felt very unloved. Mostly because of his tone and the way he said it.

I had to step back and ask myself, “What’s wrong?!” Then an “ah-ha” Emerson moment hit me! It was his tone! He still had his “big-man work voice” tone on.

Later we talked (now always prefaced by prayer first!) and I asked him if while he was working at home if he would please address me with his “wife voice.” We laughed, he understood, and crisis averted.

Can you relate to this wife? She wasn’t hurt necessarily by his words or insulted by what he had asked her to do; it was merely the tone he used when addressing her that set her off toward wanting to take a spin on the Crazy Cycle.

Think back to recent arguments you have had with your spouse or times when you were upset with something he or she said to you. Was the true culprit the tone of voice used? Was it one of disrespect or an unloving attitude? Do you need to simply ask that you be spoken to in a “wife voice” or a “husband voice”?

Like Sarah and I still say to each other today, we can be right but wrong at the top of our voice. Could being more attentive to tone of voice minimize greatly the opportunities you have to take a spin on the Crazy Cycle?

-Dr. E

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider