Tone is everything, No wait, word choice is everything. No, it's timing. Timing is everything.
There are so many components of "good" communication that its hard to remember what do to (or say). This means it's our subconscious that is usually guiding the conversation.
Subconscious? Yes. The part of our brain that is shaped by life - how we were raised, how we've been treated by others, the types of work experiences we've had.
It looks like:
Interrupting (without thinking "is now the right time to share my idea?") because of the excitement to share or the fear that it is going to be impossible to get a word in edge wise.
Yelling (without thinking "if I put myself in her shoes, how would she feel if I yelled?") at an employee when a deadline is missed because of pressure from the boss or numbness to the effect of yelling in the workplace.
Firing off a rude email (without thinking "should I call him or walk over to his desk instead?") because a colleague messed up on a project and wanting him to feel bad about it because that's what's been done to you in the past.
You get the picture. It's speaking without thinking. Everyone does it, but frequency is the difference. If 90% of the time you are thinking before speaking, then very rarely do you say something rude, embarrass an employee, or come across as inflexible (or worse, arrogant). Because that means you're checking your intention at the door.
- Am I saying this to purposely be rude?
- Could how I'm saying this be taken the wrong way?
- How is this person feeling right now?
When we pay attention to our intention, then tone, timing and word choice become irrelevant. If we intend to be mean, our actions reflect it, but if we intend to be kind, which is what I wholeheartedly believe all people intend, then our actions reflect kindness. And how much better does it feel when we work with people who 90% of the time purposely intend to be kind, and when they mess up the other 10%, realize what they've done and apologize for it?
Next time you walk into a meeting, pause at the door and ask yourself "What are my intentions for this meeting?" It will change the conversation.