Written by Darla Harms

I think we make relationships too complicated. We read books, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, hire life coaches, go to counseling, etc., yet still struggle to connect, and equip the generation behind us. What if I said it’s easier than you think? What if I told you the secret could be in one simple word? Tone.

That’s it. Your tone. The vocal frequency you use to communicate. You can say all the right things, make all the right requests, and still get it wrong. It’s not always your message, it’s your delivery.

Millennials and Generation Z are more in touch with their emotions than any other generations before them. They have been taught from childhood about honesty, integrity, safety, and much more. My kids have been to several schools and yet, each one of them had things like “the core mindset of the month” or “the value of the month”. When I was in school, the core value was “don’t talk back” and “respect your elders”. A teacher could be absolutely wrong, and have no integrity, but we were taught to say nothing, or we would get our hinnies paddled.

Not this generation. They have been raised in a social media world. They have been exposed to more information, more conflict, more news, more, more, more. They have been taught that when they don’t feel “safe”, to say something. Parents have told their kids that sex traffickers, pedophiles, online predators, etc., are waiting in the shadows and when you see one and/or experience one, you need to speak up to stay safe.

So, now we have a generation that speaks up. We’re ok with it when it has to do with their physical safety, but it can make some of us uncomfortable when it comes to their emotional safety. I have heard so many comments like, “They are too sensitive!”, “You can’t say anything without hurting their feelings!”, or my favorite, “They need to get thicker skin!”.

It’s not that I disagree with some of those statements; however, they challenge me to look at my generation and the ones above me and examine our “tone”. We were taught to stay quiet and put up with authority, even if we disagreed with it. Phrases like, “Because I said so”, permeated our generation and we followed suit.

That kind of statement doesn’t work with this generation and here’s why, they value safety over authority. Authority doesn’t always mean that they have your safety in mind, and they know it. So they speak up and push our authority buttons. I can’t say that I blame them.

If my generation, Generation X, and the generations above me are going to connect with the younger generations, we are going to have to cut through the “because I said so” power play and learn to connect with them at a different level.

According to dictionary.com, tone means, “a musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength. The general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.”.

When I say we are going to have to watch our tone to connect, I’m not just talking about our tone of voice, although that is important. I am also talking about the tone of the workplace, the tone of an email, the tone of a phone call, the tone of our homes, etc.

Whether we know it or not, psychological safety is important to all of us. We may not admit that we don’t like it when we get a scolding, criticized, or reprimanded, but that kind of “tone” affects all of us. My generation plows through it, while ignoring our feelings, causing stress and anxiety. The newer generations see how it’s dysfunctional and want my generation or the generations above me to do something about it. When we don’t, when we ignore “tone” and let it get out of control, this generation sees its hypocrisy and balks at it.

So, when I say, there is one word that could change the way we work with the next generation, I mean it. Our “tone” could change everything. We just have to have the awareness and the guts to slow down enough to examine ourselves and the environments we create around “tone”. After all, we told them to speak up, now it’s our responsibility to help them step out.


Darla Harms


Small Town Girls Play Big

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