Read time – 6 minutes.
According to several of our friends, it was the place to visit if you wanted to go somewhere that was open and accepting.
Since the 2016 elections, we’d started to ask more questions about our destination before visiting. My partner, Mammad, is from Iran—one of the seven countries that are on the list of the Muslim ban—and leaving our bubble in New York (where over 40 percent of us are immigrants), and travelling to unknown parts of the US, is something we’d started to put more thought into. We were always glad to take a recommendation for a liberal and welcoming city.
But when we got there, something seemed a little off. As we stepped out of the taxi, a cyclist, who had been riding past us, screeched to a halt in the street. “You,” he said in an exaggerated tone as he pointed to Mammad. “You are welcome here.” He then rode off before my partner had a chance to speak, and we stood for a moment in silence.
“That was a bit much!” I said, after a few seconds, and we looked at each other and laughed. Neither of us is easily thrown but there was something so theatrical about the welcome that it was almost too much to bear. We shook it off and went into the house, thinking it would end there.
It seemed that we were wrong.
For the rest of our 4-day visit, every time we left the house, we were greeted with a similar story. Gardens, storefronts, cafes, and bars were strewn with huge signs saying, “Immigrants, Welcome,” and everywhere we turned, the message was there. The only brown face in a sea of white faces, strangers would cross the street to gaze sincerely into Mammad’s eyes, grasping his hands as they greeted him with intensity.
Now don’t get me wrong. Obviously, we’d rather have it this way than reversed. And I also don’t want to come down too hard on people who are trying to be inclusive. But there was something so suffocating about the delivery of that message that he could hardly wait to leave.
Same Book, Different Cover
Rewind back six months to when we visited Austin, Texas, and he received the same message, but in a totally different wrapper.
If you ever visited Austin, then you’ll know that it’s an anomaly. While Texas is famed worldwide for its conservative viewpoint, Austin sits in the middle like a huge heart; that friendly relative who is always there with a hug and a smile. On the first night of our visit, we were at a rock concert, and as the concrete courtyard began to fill on that muggy August evening, I saw him looking around.
“You realize I’m the only brown face in the village?” Mammad asked me with a smile. Never one to be phased by these things, he was simply pointing it out. He’s also not one for holding anything back either. He’s always the loudest, the craziest, the most outspoken, whatever’s going on around him. So, on that boiling summer night, despite his observation, it wasn’t long before he had his t-shirt off, and was spinning it above his head, cheering at the top of his voice.
When the first guy came over to him, I thought there might be trouble. He was about five foot nine, and almost as wide as he was tall. He was dressed in a faded, black heavy metal t-shirt, with a baseball cap and khaki knee-length shorts. Covered from neck to toe in tattoos, he had a long beard and wore a blank expression on his face. As he walked over to Mammad, my heart began to race. But all he did was make the “cheers” sign with his beer bottle against my partner’s glass, before nodding and walking away. That night, maybe seven or eight guys came up and did something similar. A “cheers” with their beer, a high-five, a friendly and unassuming pat on the back.
The message was clear and easy to receive. “We’re cool. You’re cool. It’s cool for you here.”
That’s Why Tone is Everything
If you think about the two above experiences, they have something major in common. They are the exact same messages, but with a totally different delivery. The difference they have is their tone.
Many people think of tone as something that just involves the voice, but you’ll find tone in everything, and it’s particularly essential if you are working to dismantle prejudice and create more equality because your tone can be the difference between succeeding and falling short of your mission. Just as a director of a movie is not only thinking of the words that the actors are saying, but also how the set, light, and music are affecting the feel of the film, if you are sharing a message with an intention of impacting change in the world, you need to consider the mood you create when you write or speak.
Tone has too many aspects to cover in one blog post (and we’ll be breaking it down and looking at different parts of it in further posts too). We’ve got many factors including the difference between your tone in your spoken and written word and how you can use tone to engage emotion, inspiring others with your words. But we also have a clear starting point that you can work with, even if you are a novice at creating tone.
Tone – Starting Point
There are two questions that will highly influence the tone of your message. “Who is your message for?” and “What’s the outcome that you want to create?” If you think about where your message is going to land and the audience you are creating it for before you start writing or speaking, it means you can adjust your tone to match your audience and create the greatest chance for what you are sharing to actually making an impact.
It will open up further questions such as whether a formal or informal tone is more appropriate for your audience and how you can alter your message to get your point across most effectively. Just as in the two stories above where the same message was delivered in two different packages, so too can you can start to think more carefully about the packaging for your message so it lands and has the desired effect.
For the past decade, Sasha Allenby has been a ghostwriter for some of the greatest through-leaders of our time. Her journey started when she co-authored a bestselling book that was published in 12 languages worldwide by industry giants, Hay House. Since then, Sasha has written over 30 books for global change agents. Following the 2016 elections, she turned her skill set to crafting social messages. Her latest book Catalyst: Speaking, writing and leading for social evolution supports thought leaders to craft dynamic messages that contribute to change.